Dennis Altman

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Dennis Patkin Altman (born 16 August 1943) is an Australian academic and pioneering gay rights activist.

Altman was born in Sydney, New South Wales to Jewish immigrant parents, and spent most of his childhood in Hobart, Tasmania.[1] In 1964 he won a Fulbright scholarship to Cornell University, where he began working with leading American gay activists.[2] Returning to Australia in 1969, he taught politics at the University of Sydney, and in 1971 he published his first book, Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation—considered an important intellectual contribution to the ideas that shaped gay liberation movements in the English-speaking world. Among his ideas were "the polymorphous whole"[3] and his posing of the notion of "the end of the homosexual",[4] in which the potential for both heterosexual and homosexual behaviour becomes a widespread cultural and psychological phenomenon. In 2005 he published Gore Vidal's America, a study of US author Gore Vidal's writings on history, politics, sex, and religion.

In 1985 Altman moved to La Trobe University, where he later became professor of politics. He was appointed the Visiting Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University from January 2005.[5] Since 2009 Altman has been the director of the Institute for Human Security at La Trobe University.[6]

Altman has delivered speeches on the topic of sexual liberation. One of his most known speeches, Human beings can be much more than they have allowed themselves to be, was delivered at the first Gay Liberation Group meeting at the University of Sydney on 19 January 1972.[7]

In his preface to The City and the Pillar,[8] Gore Vidal writes that Altman brought the book back with him but it was seized at Sydney Airport and subsequently declared obscene by a judge who also observed that the Australian obscenity law was "absurd", thus leading to its repeal some time later.

Altman is also an active member of organisations that are dedicated to creating a better life for homosexuals, serving on the Australian National Council on AIDS and other international organisations including the AIDS Society of Asia and the Pacific, of which (as of the 2005 Kobe ICAAP Congress) he is president.[9] Although strongly identified with gay rights, Altman also contributes to more widely based organisations. In October 2006 he was elected to the board of Oxfam Australia.[10] In 2010 he stepped down from this position.

In 1997 Altman wrote an essay, "Global gaze/global gays", in which he proposes that there are cultural connections between homosexuals in different countries, and that there is a nascent global gay culture.[11]

Altman is a longtime patron of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

In March 2013 Altman wrote about the death of his partner of 22 years, Anthony Smith, who died from lung cancer in November 2012.[12]


  • Altman, Dennis (1971). Homosexual: oppression and liberation. Outerbridge & Dienstfrey. ISBN 0-87690-039-2.
  • Altman, Dennis (1979). Coming out in the seventies. Sydne: Wild and Woolley. ISBN 978-0-226-01606-1.
  • Altman, Dennis (1980). Rehearsals for change: politics and culture in Australia. Sydney: Fontana/Collins.
  • Altman, Dennis (1982). The Homosexualization of America: The Americanization of the Homosexual. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Altman, Dennis (1986). AIDS in the mind of America. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday.
  • Altman, Dennis (1993). The comfort of men. Port Melbourne, Vic.: W. Heinemann Australia.
  • Altman, Dennis (1994). Power and community: organizational and cultural responses to AIDS. London; Bristol, PA: Taylor & Francis.
  • Altman, Dennis (1997). Defying gravity: a political life. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin.
  • Altman, Dennis (2001). Global sex. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-01606-1.
  • Altman, Dennis (2005). Gore Vidal's America. Cambridge; Malden, MA: Polity.
  • Altman, Dennis (2006). 51st state?. Carlton North, Vic.: Scribe Short Books.
  • Altman, Dennis (2013). The End of the Homosexual?. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press.
  • Altman, Dennis & Jonathan Symons (2016). Queer Wars: The New Global Polarization over Gay Rights. Cambridge, UK: Polity.


  1. ^ Slattery, Luke, "Dennis Altman, dynamo in the creation of gay power in Australia, explains why he had to write his biography now", The Australian Magazine, 8–9 February 1997
  2. ^ Altman, interviewed by Chris Hector (1973), transcript in Altman, Coming Out in the Seventies (1979)
  3. ^ Altman, D. Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation, Sydney, Angus & Robertson (1972), pp. 58–95 (ISBN 0-207-12459-0)
  4. ^ Altman, D. Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation, Sydney, Angus & Robertson (1972), pp. 216–228
  5. ^ "Dennis Altman appointed to Harvard Chair of Australian Studies". Latrobe University. Archived from the original on 26 August 2006. Retrieved 14 March 2006.
  6. ^ La Trobe University website Staff Profile, Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University Retrieved 10 August 2013
  7. ^ The speech is reproduced as Forum on sexual liberation in Altman, Coming Out in the Seventies (1979), p. 16
  8. ^ Vidal, Gore (1995). The city and the pillar. New York: Random House. p. 310. ISBN 0-679-43699-5.
  9. ^ "Message from ASAP". Seventh International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. Retrieved 30 July 2006.
  10. ^ "Message from ASAP". Board election results for Oxfam Australia, 2006. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 5 November 2006.
  11. ^ Altman, Dennis, "Global gaze/global gays", GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 1997
  12. ^ Altman, Dennis, "Life after Anthony", Sydney Morning Herald, 9 March 2013.

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