The Arts and Activism: a profile of Equal Love’s Anthony Wallace

In 2004, Prime Minister John Howard tabled the Marriage Amendment Act 2004, which banned gay couples from marrying or having their overseas marriage recognised by Australian law.

Fitzroy local Anthony Wallace’s interest in marriage equality peaked when he sat outraged and perplexed with his partner at Prime Minister Howard’s decision in 2004.

Over nine years later, Mr Wallace is the campaign manager of Equal Love, the Victorian arm of a nationwide campaign to achieve marriage equality in Australia.

“I was walking down Smith Street and saw a poster for a same sex marriage rally. I asked if there was anything I could do to help,” says Mr Wallace.

After attending his first marriage equality rally with a CD player in hand, Mr Wallace saw enormous scope for improvement in the staging of Equal Love’s rallies.

Addressing the crowd with a megaphone was simply not going to cut it.

Although at a busy time in his life, between performing as an actor in stage shows and finding his feet in the bar ownership caper, Mr Wallace took on a more prominent role with Equal Love.

As campaign manager, one of his greatest achievements is the staging of a rally in conjunction with the Sydney based Community Action Against Homophobia.

Anthony Wallace (centre) at a Marriage Equality rally. Photo: Anthony Wallace

In 2011, thousands marched from Hyde Park to Darling Harbour to the Labour Party Conference in support of marriage equality.

“It remains the biggest march for marriage equality in Australian history,” Mr Wallace recalls proudly.

“When I joined the campaign, public support for marriage equality was as low as 23 per cent. We can champion this until we are at 99 per cent, but the government has to act.”

Remaining motivated to campaign for marriage equality is easy and it is people like Peter and Bon who inspire him to do so.

Peter de Waal and Peter (Bon) Bonsall-Boone are two men who have loved each other for over 50 years.

Recently featured in a video on the Equal Love website, they have become well known to Mr Wallace and Equal Love.

Bon recently lost his battle with terminal cancer, with his final wish to be legally married to his partner Peter going unfulfilled.

Mr Wallace recalls the story of Peter and Bon to me, his tone changing from optimistic to outraged.

It is beyond his belief that these two men aren’t married, despite the tenure of their relationship and the love they have for one another.

It is clear in Mr Wallace’s exasperation that Peter and Bon’s story, and many others like it, are what keeps him fighting for marriage equality.

“Until you get what you are entitled to, you keep fighting for it. We won’t give up. I won’t give up. I’ll tire, but new people will come in and join the fight,” he says.

“We know what the word husband or wife means. That is a significant person in someone’s life. Nothing compares to that,” he says.

Mr Wallace angrily describes the marriage equality issue in Australia as “embarrassing” and “shameful”.

Recent remarks by former tennis great Margaret Court only served to incense him further.

Mr Wallace and his Equal Love comrades protested Margaret Court being the keynote speaker at a Liberal Party fundraiser in Melbourne on the 22nd of June this year.

“The Liberal Party endorsing Court as their keynote speaker was worse than broadcasters airing her views. It was more endorsement for her,” he says.

Ali Hogg, convenor of the Equal Love campaign describes Mr Wallace’s involvement as “lifesaving.”

“He organises a lot of the sound and stage aspects of our rallies. His background in event management has helped us tremendously with our campaigns,” Ms Hogg says.

His expertise in sound and the stage was cultivated in his teenage years, where he chose to forgo admission to the prestigious Melbourne High School in favour of the performing arts focused Northcote Technical School.

“I did my orientation at Northcote Tech and fell in love,” he says.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Performing Arts from Ballarat University, he worked as an actor in stage shows and created a children’s touring theatre company, Jumpin’ Theatre.

As work in the performing arts dried up, he opened the 86, a cabaret bar in Fitzroy.

Anthony Wallace, owner of the 86. Photo: Anthony Wallace

“I shook a lot of cocktails in my time, but had very little cabaret bar experience,” he chuckles.

Nearly six years later, the 86 is the holder of a Guinness World Record for the staging of the longest non-stop Drag Queen and King stage show in the world at 36 hours, 36 minutes and 40 seconds.

“88 drag queens performed, with a drag queen on stage the whole time,” he says gleefully.

When Ms Hogg was asked to use three words to describe Mr Wallace she said, “he’s passionate, he’s driven and he’s opinionated.”

Passion, drive and opinion have been the ingredients to Anthony Wallace’s success and long may it continue.

The next Equal Love rally for marriage equality is on the 26th of August at the Victorian State Library, a Mass Illegal Wedding commemorating 13 years since the amended Marriage Act was legalised. 

Written by Nicholas Nakos

Gay blood is good blood

One in three Australians will need donated blood in their lifetime. Its uses range from treating cancer patients to severe bouts of the flu, and we’re told it’s always in short supply. This month the Australian Red Cross estimates an additional 3000 donations are needed to fill the demand.

Yet when Adam Rustov, a 22-year-old Melbourne man recently went to a Red Cross Blood Centre wishing to donate blood, he was denied the opportunity to do so.

“I was filling out the paperwork before the donation started and read some questions about HIV, hepatitis and other diseases,” 22-year-old Adam Rustov told the Yarra Reporter.

“I soon realised that any gay man who had been sexually active in the last 12 months couldn’t donate blood,” Mr Rustov said. “So I got up, made an excuse that I wasn’t feeling well and walked out. I felt second-rate. I was trying to do a good thing and I felt inferior,” he said.

Mr Rustov’s experience is all too common and despite the need for blood, willing donors are being turned away.

Blood donation test tubes. Photo: Creative Commons

The Australian Red Cross in late May 2017 issued an urgent SOS for type-O blood donors as stores were at critically low levels heading into winter. Today, its home page has a large banner reading ‘3000 more blood donations needed in July’.

The 12 month exclusion period is not unique to Australia and also exists in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. However, Italy, Poland and Russia are among the European countries that don’t impose restrictions on gay and bisexual blood donations.

Although gay men make up 68% of those infected with HIV, as opposed to an estimated 20% of heterosexual couples, 92% of those with HIV are receiving antiretroviral treatment and have an undetectable viral load, which reduces transmission of HIV to HIV-negative people by 92-96% and is a key treatment goal.

In 2012, the Australian Red Cross commissioned an independent review of Australian blood donor deferral periods. Its review recommended a reduction in the donation exclusion period from 12 months to six months.

Colin Batrouney is the Director of Policy at the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC), an organisation that aims to improve the health outcomes for gender and sexually diverse communities.

Rainbow flag. Photo: Creative Commons

“We absolutely agreed with the panel recommendation in 2012 to reduce the exclusion period,” Mr Batrouney said.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia is tasked with the supply, import, export and manufacturing of therapeutic goods. Blood is classified as a therapeutic good.

The TGA has the ultimate say when it comes to changing the donation exclusion period and chose not to accept the Red Cross’ expert review in 2012 and the exclusion period remains at 12 months.

The TGA could not be reached for comment, but Mr Batrouney said, “We are disappointed in the TGA. It hasn’t  justified its position. TGA has rejected the recommendations of the review, without providing a reason why”.

In 2014, the 20th annual AIDS conference was held in Melbourne and served as an opportunity for the Victorian AIDS Council to bring further attention to this issue.

Mr Batrouney and members of the VAC led a demonstration through the streets of Melbourne, with the hope of agitating change and drawing attention to their plight.

“This issue is one that the VAC has always considered important and will continue to see as important until there is change,” Mr Batrouney said.

With the Australian Red Cross continually seeking to recruit new donors, many healthy gay and bisexual men are prohibited from being blood donors due to bureaucracy being misaligned with scientific evidence.

“The science is clear to see. It isn’t an unsafe practice for gay men to donate blood. Those in charge of making change are well behind the scientific facts that are undisputed and unambiguous,” Mr Batrouney said.

“We will continue to fight for the rights of gay men on this issue. It’s a discriminatory practice and we must stand up to it,” Mr Batrouney said.

If one in three Australians will one day require blood, you’re almost guaranteed to know someone in need. The science and statistical data has shown that the current exclusionary periods do not reduce the risk of unwanted infection. The only losers here are Australians in need of blood and the men willing to help them.

Written by Nicholas Nakos

A push for safer workplaces for LGBTI


On Thursday February 2, the Fitzroy Town Hall was transformed into a discussion room for community members, business leaders and LGBTIQ activists to advocate for equality within workplaces across Victoria.

With many issues raised over the course of the night, the prospect that everybody should feel comfortable and empowered in their workplace was at the core.

The event, put on by The Yarra City Council and Polykala, was part of the launch for a new collaborative project, Working With Pride – a leadership program designed to encourage managers and emerging leaders to create a fair and inclusive workplace environment.

The launch presented a panel of LGBTIQ activists and spokespeople answering questions from Budi Sudarto, as well as an improvised interpretive dance by Melbourne Playback, encapsulating the stories of individuals in the room.

Melbourne Playback provided entertainment for the launch night.

On the panel, co-founder of Streat Cafe, Bec Scott said, “it’s critical for everyone to feel inclusive, but not just for queer young people, for everyone. All of us want to work somewhere where we are recognised for who we are, we’re celebrated for who we are, and we do our best work under those conditions.”

Scott’s organisation Streat runs a series of cafes employing young people in the LGBTI community who are disadvantaged or homeless, some due to abandonment after coming out to their families.

Brenda Appleton, assigned male at birth and transitioned 16 years ago, said, “I’m happy to now be talking about what it is like to be your real self in the workplace, it’s so important.”

Appleton has also made history as the first trans co-chair of an advisory group to any government in Australia.

Additional panelists included Rowena (Ro) Allen – the Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality, and Jason Ball – The 2017 Victorian Young Australian of the Year for his work with the LGTBIQ community in sport.

Despite some organisations doing their part to be inclusive, Appleton discussed studies suggesting that up to 60% of LGBTI people are still not comfortable to be open about their sexuality or gender identity in the workplace.

“In the trans-gender community, 42% of us attempt suicide at some stage in our lives. It’s not easy being yourself when yourself doesn’t meet societies expectations,” Appleton said.

Ball, who is also an ambassador for Beyond Blue said this negative attitude very much translates into sporting clubs.

“The LGBTI community [is] very much over-represented when it comes to negative outcomes and sport, in particular, is an environment where the LGBTI community doesn’t feel safe, welcome and included,” he said.

Working with grassroots football leagues and the AFL, Ball has seen more LGBTI inclusion and acceptance from when he was younger.

Growing up in a small town, he always thought his local football club of Yarra Glenn would be the one place that he wouldn’t be able to come out.

“As a result of homophobic language not only used but seen as acceptable, seen as part of the game,” he said.

“It’s a small community, everyone knows everyone’s business, so the fear that if there’s a negative reaction to who you are, can really cost you everything.”

After coming out, Ball realised, “a lot of the homophobic language from my teammates was coming from a place of ignorance as opposed to a place of hatred and callus towards people who are gay.”

The Yarra Glenn Football Club has since founded the Pride Cup. Initiated in 2014, the cup celebrates diversity and inclusion with the 50-metre line painted a rainbow and incorporates education for footballers about LGBTI inclusion.

Inspired by the Pride Cup, the St Kilda Football Club and the Sydney Football Club hosted the Pride Game last year, played at Etihad Stadium.

Panellist Ro Allen has seen the negative impact of workplace inequality in rural communities and is fighting for education on LGBTI inclusion to disseminate past city boundaries.

“We need to make sure, not just the Melbourne bubble, but all of Victoria is a safe place,” Allen said.

Allen has met with CEO’s of many major companies and believes there are some champions out there willing to get the ball rolling.

“It’s easy to be the second or third company, but it’s hard to be the first one to set up a pride network.”

When it comes to the government, Allen has already brought about massive change.

“I’m very proud to say all of the eight departments within the Victorian government signed up to Pride in Diversity; every single department has a pride network,” she said.

Pride in Diversity is a national not-for-profit employer support program for LGBTI workplace inclusion, that has published the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI), setting national standards for workplace policies and procedures surrounding LGBTI inclusion.

Whilst this may be a great stepping stone in the right direction, all panelists believe there is more to be done, and education is vital.


Panelists on the night were (from left) Bec Scott, Ro Allen, Brenda Appleton and Jason Ball.

“A lot of what we encounter is fear of the unknown rather than rejection of trans and gender diverse and LGBTI people,” Appleton said.

“If we can remove that fear, if we can provide knowledge and understanding then I think we [can] open the conversation.”

The panelists ended the night on a positive note, agreeing that the power of allies, personal stories and empathy can go a long way.

“I grew up in the most homophobic environment with a dad who, in the 80’s [would scream] at the TV ‘that’s death for all faggots thank goodness’,” Scott said.

“But my dad would be one of the greatest allies we’ve got now for queers.”

“Yes we can change the big policy settings and there’s a lot of things that are broken and need to be fixed, but for me, it’s all of those moments of kindness that matter most.”

Written By Caitlyn Leggett