Dennis Altman

Dennis Patkin Altman is an Australian academic and gay rights activist.

Early childhood

Altman was born in Sydney, New South Wales to Jewish immigrant parents, and spent most of his childhood in Hobart, Tasmania.


In 1964 he won a Fulbright scholarship to Cornell University, where he began working with leading American gay activists.


Returning to Australia in 1969, he taught politics at the University of Sydney. Later in 1985, Altman moved to La Trobe University, where he later became a professor of politics. He was appointed the Visiting Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University in January 2005. Since 2009 Altman has been the director of the Institute for Human Security at La Trobe University.
Altman is also an active member of organizations that are dedicated to creating a better life for homosexuals, serving on the Australian National Council on AIDS and other international organizations including the AIDS Society of Asia and the Pacific, of which he is president. Although strongly identified with gay rights, Altman also contributes to more widely based organizations. In October 2006 he was elected to the board of Oxfam Australia. In 2010 he stepped down from this position.
Altman is also a longtime patron of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives. He has been deeply involved with government and community responses to HIV/AIDS in Australia and the Asia Pacific. He has written in the Mind of America and Power and Community, regarding the topics of HIV and AIDS.

Writings and speeches

In 1971, Altman 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" and his posing of the notion of "the end of the homosexual", in which the potential for both heterosexual and homosexual behavior 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.
Altman has delivered speeches on the topic of sexual liberation. One of his most notable speeches was delivered during the first Gay Liberation Group meeting at the University of Sydney on 19 January 1972. It was called 'Human beings can be much more than they have allowed themselves to be'.
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 there is a nascent global gay culture.
In his preface to The City and the Pillar, 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 observed that the Australian obscenity law was "absurd", thus leading to it being repealed sometime later.
In March 2013 Altman wrote about the death of his partner of 22 years, Anthony Smith, who died from lung cancer in November 2012.