A gong for gays of influence

Ben Cubby
October 10, 2007

AFTER years of psychotherapy, counselling and prayer, the pentecostal preacher Anthony Venn-Brown finally stood up in front of his congregation and announced the truth. He is gay.

That public declaration 22 years ago cost Mr Venn-Brown his wife, two daughters, friends and his place as one of Australia’s leading evangelical ministers.

When he received a phone call last week telling him he had been chosen as one of Australia’s 25 most influential gay people, he cried with happiness.

“I love being a gay man and I love who I am, and the award was a genuine, genuine honour,” Mr Venn-Brown said yesterday.

The first of their kind in Australia, the awards were organised by samesame.com.au. Although whimsically nicknamed the “Gaylies”, they were designed to carry a sober message amid the glitz of a ceremony held at the Art Gallery of NSW last night.

“We were warned, from the reaction that [similar] awards have had overseas, that some people would not want to be publicly included on the list,” said the website’s co-founder, Tim Duggan. “But every one on the list was happy to be in it, which I take as a very good sign.”

Among those included are the High Court Justice Michael Kirby, the singer Darren Hayes, theatre director Neil Armfield and children’s author Vicki Harding, who ignited a scandal in some quarters when she appeared on Play School in 2004 with her lesbian partner.

Thousands of votes were tallied from inside and outside the gay and lesbian community for the awards. “In the end it was a mix of really well-known names and others who people might not know about but are doing important work in the community,” Mr Duggan said.

He hopes the awards will grow into a popular annual milestone like other landmark gay and lesbian events such as the Mardi Gras, which also sprung from humble, controversial beginnings.

“It will be fascinating to look back and see what the gay and lesbian community thought in 2007.”