Michael Glynn was found dead in his Glebe Housing Commission terrace on Wednesday 10 July 1996. To paraphrase Auden’s Funeral Blues, no one stopped the clocks or held the presses. It was deadline day, after all, and the page proofs for that week’s edition of the Sydney Star Observer – the newspaper Glynn founded almost two decades earlier – had to be at the printers by 6pm. It wasn’t until the following day that reports of Glynn’s death filtered into the Star office on Oxford Street, a noisy thoroughfare lined with gay bars and clubs and known as Sydney’s golden mile.
Glynn had emigrated to Australia from the USA in 1971. He was a good-looking 23-year-old then, still shy about embracing his sexuality but aware, after seeing in Boston the surf film Endless Summer, that Australia had erotic appeal.
“The guys in Endless Summer were travelling around the world, following the sun and the surf,” Glynn recalled in a 1995 interview with a former editor of the Star, Larry Galbraith.
“They went to Melbourne, then they came to Sydney, but on both occasions it was overcast and raining and the waves weren’t doing much. Then they ended up in Darwin. And I saw these men wearing Speedos and of course I grew up with boxer short swimwear, so the Speedos were a bit of an eye-opener. And that’s about the only thing I knew about Australia before I came down here.”
Glynn, who taught high school English and drama for several years after he arrived in Australia, would have expected his death to make the front-page of the Star, and it did. Glynn’s photo appeared underneath the Star masthead on 18 July 1996, next to a photo of a fellow American drama queen, Truman Capote. Glynn’s photo pointed readers to a tribute on page three, penned by a long-time Star contributor, Gary Dunne, who described Glynn as a lanky American with no shortage of attitude and chutzpah.
I was one of three journalists who worked at the Star at the time of Glynn’s death. Ben Widdicombe and Julie Catt were the other two staff journalists, and we reported to Bernie Sheehan, who was the newspaper’s second lesbian editor in 17 years. All of us knew of Glynn as the Star founder but none of us had any contact with the man whose vision for a gay community newspaper we had inherited.
Certainly, we were fiercely protective of the newspaper and its reputation. We valued its status as an independent and critical voice within Sydney’s gay and lesbian community and its role as the community’s journal of record.
The Star we worked for in the mid-1990s had evolved into a much more polished version of the newspaper Glynn founded in 1979 but it nevertheless remained true to Glynn’s original vision. We reported on breakthroughs and setbacks in AIDS treatments; and on continuing street violence against lesbians and gays. We pushed back against the Wood Royal Commission and its conflation of homosexuality with paedophilia; and we celebrated court victories that included insurance payouts to same-sex partners and human rights rulings against discrimination.
We carried arts reviews and scene photos, lists of event information and community contacts, and humourous columns about love and lust. We boasted an audited, weekly circulation of 24,682 and were frequently cited by mainstream media as a source for stories about gay and lesbian issues.
Digital services such as Gaydar and Grindr were unheard of at the time. Instead, the Star carried page after page of classified advertisements from sex workers, escorts, and masseurs; and columns of ‘personals’ from gay men seeking casual or long-term connections: “31YO, 5’8 70kg. Turned on by stocky man with hairy chest, mo. Into anything that’s safe. Very b’minded”.
We had made good on our inheritance. But we were too busy to spare much thought for the Star’s origins. Thankfully, others did.
Gary Dunne interviewed Glynn in June 1994 for the Star’s 15th anniversary edition, and Galbraith recorded an interview with Glynn in December 1995. Those two interviews are unique in that they allow Glynn to provide a public account of his life.
But of course that’s not the full story. There exists a shoebox full of Glynn’s personal papers and diaries, a collection that reveals some of Glynn’s torturous interior life. As well, Glynn’s surviving friends, lovers, co-workers and peers have their own memories and their own versions of events. One of them is the gay activist and former Sydney City Councillor, Craig Johnston, who was commissioned by Dunne to write a brief reflection on Glynn and the Star for the newspaper’s 15th anniversary edition. Johnston’s account provides the starting point for this story:
For me, I guess, the Golden Age of the gay/lesbian print media will always be Michael Glynn’s Star. I first came across it when Michael and friends like Dennis Scott were handing it out from a little table, night-time, just near Capriccios.
It took on a tabloid format, personified the passion and commitment of Michael, was full of infuriating typing mistakes, upbraided the gay male community into maturity, was loved and hated, depended on volunteers, printed absolutely everything you gave it (which was great for the homosexual law reform campaign and my campaign for election to Sydney City Council), happily antagonised advertisers, lived on a shoe string (which couldn’t last) and was entirely maverick and unpredictable – except for its unshakeable commitment to gay power and community development.
In these days when poofs and dykes who work for the homosexual print media are just as likely to wear red braces as purple overalls, our media could do worse than remember the eight pillars of homosexual politics expressed in the first Star. Sexuality. Identity. Community. Gender non-conformism. Camp. Enterprise. Militancy. Radical social critique. Think about it for a while, if you want.