“I was tagged as being gay before I knew I was … because of a completely innocent action in grade 7.”
It was a chilly mid-1980s morning at Leichhardt Ward Boys State School in Rockhampton when Blair Martin noticed a friend of his had goosebumps.
“I just thought that looked fabulous. I just ran my hand over his leg. That was it, and that carried with me through high school,” he says.
It was something that was not acceptable in that environment. “My mother said at one point, ‘You’d break my heart if you were homosexual,’ so I didn’t say anything for about five years.
“Even though she knew … she was trying to educate to ask me not to come out. It was a very negative response.”
But Blair followed his heart and headed to Brisbane, where he became the role model he never had. A stalwart at 4ZZZ FM’s Queer Radio, he’s now the station’s training coordinator and the show’s executive producer, a beacon for young people who similarly find themselves in a hostile environment.
Homosexuality treated as ‘immoral’
Even as recently as 2010, a survey by Roy Morgan Research found one in three Queenslanders thought homosexuality was immoral. And while there are vocal anti-gay politicians still around today shaping public opinion, former premier Joe Bjelke-Petersen in the ’70s and ’80s was on another level.
“If anyone talked about it, it was in a very derogatory or quite wrong way. You have to remember male to male homosexual acts were punishable by up to 14 years in prison with hard labour at that time,” Blair says.
The LGBT+ community have plenty of role models to look up to on TV, film and online today. That wasn’t Blair’s experience growing up in a mostly working class, country town.
“I think the only thing I can recall would’ve been is Number 96 with the character of Don who was the first out gay character on Australian television, who lived a normal life.”
After finishing high school, Blair moved to Brisbane for uni and work. Even after visits to the local gay club Terminus, he continued to be torn between his feelings and the expectations of colleagues, friends, and family.
“There was still this … barrier. That fact that it was illegal didn’t really register. I think it was more family expectation or society’s view that sort of crushed you. But by the ’80s, things were changing.”
The Sydney Gay Mardi Gras in 1978, the New Romantic movement of the early 1980s and films like Making Love meant that more people were less sceptical of what would’ve been called “sexual deviants” just a few years before. Blair started to feel a lot more comfortable with how he could be in that early period.
“I was then slowly becoming more aware that I can’t keep putting this barrier up all the time. Somewhere about 1984, I just came out. I was sharing a house with a good friend of mine. We were both ABBA fans, and of course every male ABBA fan is gay. And we started going to the Terminus every Tuesday night.”
Through the ’90s and early ’00s he’d visit 4ZZZ FM radio studios for Queer Radio, which is still one of the longest running LGBT+ shows in Australia. He joined the team of regular announcers in 2011, and moved into more senior roles soon after.
Being able to give space to people – non-binary voices, trans voices, people who live with disabilities. Being able to say to people ‘this is what matters to me’. Community radio exists to allow people whose voices are not heard in the mainstream.
Grace Pashley, who manages 4ZZZ, has been working with Blair on the station’s digital counterpart, Zed Digital, since she joined the station three years ago.
“Everything that Blair does he does it to 110 per cent. The minute he got involved with 4ZZZ he was always going to wear a number of hats and he’s always very busy,” she says
“But I just know he would never have it any other way. He’s the real glue of the station in a lot of different ways.”
Blair says a trainee announcer – who found acceptance when he came out as bisexual – told him Queer Radio had provided a sense of comfort in an uncomfortable political environment.
“What he said to me was ‘I was listening to your program when [then premier] Campbell Newman was doing horrible things to the queer community and to Queensland overall, and I was really afraid. But I listened to your program and you gave me hope that it could be better, that things could change’.
“And I thought … that was the reason I put this show together.”