Francesca Curtis and Phyllis Papps are many things. Researchers. Writers. Ultra-Feminists. Partners. They are also the first lesbian couple to come out on national television almost fifty years ago. Putting everything on the line, Phyllis and Francesca appeared on ABCTV’s This Day Tonight’s interview about lesbianism in October 1970. Since that appearance, the couple unpredictably became the public face of change, becoming members of Australia’s first gay political rights group, the Daughters of Bilitis, now known as the Australasian Lesbian Movement. The Australasian Lesbian Movement was the first forum for lesbian women to open up and speak about their sexualities.
Dating back to their lives in early 1970s Australia, the women not only fight for acceptance within society but amongst their families and themselves. Coming off the back of a broken engagement with a man, Phyllis’ relationship with her mother Rita shatters, leaving them almost completely estranged from one another. Held to a heteronormative life she can’t seem to step out of, Phyllis also battles with her own sexuality and ultimately finds herself receiving psychiatric treatment in a last attempt to fit inside the conservative world around her.
During one of her darkest moments, Phyllis meets Francesca, in what would be four months prior to their appearance on television as a couple. Coming from a rural town and a life of invisibility, Francesca anchored into her identity and is noted as the first lesbian woman to have her face and name on Australian television, appearing on Channel 9’s ‘The Bailey File.’ For the first time, Phyllis saw and met someone like herself, changing her life forever. Although against their families wishes and society norms, the women begin their love story publicly whilst up against a widespread national mentality of homophobia.
Now in the last years of their lives and with health problems looming, Phyllis and Francesca shine light on the barriers that still stop them from being seen as who they are before it is too late. With their story spanning decades and a new LGBTQIA+ generation emerging, the couple uncover their contribution to one of the biggest shifts in Australian history, and also open up about the importance of acceptance in their lives. Refusing to become invisible, Phyllis and Francesca come out for the final time whilst the country secures marriage equality and a hopeful future.
Winner – Best Film, Queer Screen at Mardi Gras Film Festival, Sydney 2021
Winner – Best Australian Short at Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Melbourne 2021