Ninety-eight years old and Ken Lovett hadn’t stopped! Ever the activist, while facing terminal cancer, Ken made sure he posted his voting papers for Victorian Socialists’ candidate Omar Hassan in the 2020 local council elections. He died just a few days later, politically committed to the end.

Ken lived through economic depression, world war, McCarthyism and then the hope of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when revolutionary struggles swept the world. This life experience made him a passionate campaigner in the fight against oppression.

In the mid-1960s, when living and working in London, he joined the Albany Trust, an educational, counselling and research organisation that worked alongside the Homosexual Law Reform Society. Law reform was partially won in the UK in 1967, but the Albany Trust continued its valuable work.

When Ken returned to Sydney, he threw himself into the still very new LGBTI+ activism, joining the lively Homosexual Law Reform group there. In 1972, when Peter Bonsall-Boone was dismissed by the Church of England after he came out on ABC TV’s Chequerboard program, Ken joined the rally outside the church. It was to be the first of many protests in Sydney, Newcastle and Melbourne.

When the Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo, where Ken lived, came under threat from corrupt and greedy developers, he co-founded the activist group Residents of Woolloomooloo. Backed by the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation, he was part of the world-famous battle to save this important working-class suburb. He was also a keen environmentalist and anti-nuclear activist, joining protests as part of the LGBTI+ Enola Gay group, named after the US plane that bombed Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

As the LGBTI+ activist movement grew, he was involved in groups such as the Gay Solidarity Group, later Lesbian and Gay Solidarity, which organised the first Mardi Gras in 1978. Hundreds, including Ken, were arrested in Sydney during 1978 in the demonstrations for gay rights and Ken was heavily involved in the successful Drop the Charges campaign arising from these protests. The charges were eventually dropped, but the campaign also won the right to protest without a permit in New South Wales, a victory not just for LGBTI+ people, but for everyone.

From 1978, Ken was involved in countless groups, protests and campaigns, including the Sydney-based Gay Radio Information News Service in the Gaywaves program on Radio 2SER and the Gay Community News Sydney Collective. His stand against right-wing homophobes led him to join the Coalition Against Repression which organised protests during the visit of British homophobe Mary Whitehouse.

In the 1980s, he and others campaigned against another visiting homophobe, this time the US Christian preacher Jerry Falwell. As his friend Ian McIntyre recalls, they cheekily registered the name Moral Majority—a name previously associated with Falwell and other right-wing homophobic, sexist groups. Under that name, they put out badges, T-shirts, banners, stickers and press releases, all proclaiming that the Moral Majority supported gay rights, abortion, women’s and trans’ rights and so on. Ken himself was a strong supporter of women’s rights.

He was anti-racist and an internationalist to the core. He had a long-term correspondence with Black, anti-Apartheid, gay activist Tseko Simon Nkoli after he was jailed in South Africa on treason charges. Nkoli became known around the world in the 1990s, when he went public about his sexuality and HIV status at a time when the stigma in South Africa was immense. 

Ken was also involved with Inside Out, an Australian gay prisoner support group, and marched to protest Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. He was part of the big Gays Against the Bicentenary contingent that joined the tens of thousands in Sydney on 26 January 1988 to protest Invasion Day. Then there was the Gay and Lesbian Immigration Task Force NSW and Friends of the ABC that he was involved in, and he was equally committed to Palestinian, refugee, anti-war and other human rights causes.

In October 1982, Ken and the Gay Solidarity Group supported Roberta Perkins and the Australian Transsexual Association in staging the first transgender protest in Australia. The protest was held to challenge a ruling that two transwomen were men. In response, the NSW attorney-general gave an assurance that all states had committed to recognising sex changes.

One of Ken’s abiding causes was for people with HIV-AIDS, volunteering for and supporting two HIV-AIDS garden memorials in Sydney Park and the Melbourne suburb of Fairfield.

More recently, and while not himself wishing to marry, Ken was a strong supporter of the marriage equality campaign, attending every Melbourne protest he could. He wrote thousands of letters of protest, submissions to enquiries and often designed and produced his own banners with his own distinctive writing style and imaginative slogans.

Twenty-seven years ago, he met his dearly loved partner Mannie de Saxe, a committed socialist, anti-Zionist Jewish activist, a South African and fierce opponent of that country’s apartheid regime. Together, they campaigned for so many of these and other causes, for equal rights for all, including, more recently, many contributions to improve services for older lesbian, transgender and gay people.

We have all lost a committed fighter for our rights, but one who has enriched the struggle and helped give us the strength to keep on fighting.