Rights groups welcome Victoria’s moves to erase historic gay sex convictions

Rainbow Flag 248Rights groups have welcomed the Victorian Government’s announcement that it will legislate to erase the criminal records of homosexual men who were convicted for having consensual sex in the past when it was illegal.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy, Anna Brown, has been providing legal assistance to men who have been unfairly burdened by criminal records imposed when unjust laws criminalised sexual relations between men. She said having these manifestly unjust convictions erased will help end the stigma, shame and practical difficulties they have inflicted for decades.

“It’s extremely pleasing to see the Victorian Government showing leadership on this issue. Acknowledging these laws were wrong and legislating to abolish the left-over convictions will start to heal the harm that these discriminatory laws have caused. Sex between consenting adults should never have been criminalised,” said Ms Brown.

Until 1981 in Victoria, gay men were convicted and even imprisoned for offences ranging from “buggery” and “loitering for homosexual purposes” to indecency and offensive behaviour offences. In some cases, individuals who would today be treated as victims of sexual abuse were charged with criminal offences.

Jamie Gardiner, now a Vice-President of Liberty Victoria, was President of the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition and a leading member of the successful campaign that resulted in the unjust criminal laws being repealed in 1980.

“These convictions have cruelly affected the lives of gay men prosecuted in the 1970s and before, for conduct which should never have been criminal, and has been legal for over three decades,” said Mr Gardiner.

“They unfairly constrain employment options and the volunteer work they undertake. We must repudiate those discriminatory laws and not let them continue to poison the lives of many hundreds of gay and bisexual men.”

Today, unknown numbers of men (and possibly women) live with the shame, stigma and barriers to work, volunteer and travel caused by a criminal conviction for conduct that is lawful today.

The announcement coincides with the release of a major research report, by a coalition of legal and community organisations, intended to guide the development of the reforms.

The report, Righting Historical Wrongs – background paper for a legislative scheme to expunge convictions for historical consensual gay sex offences in Victoria has been authored by the Human Rights Law Centre in partnership with Liberty Victoria, the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, Gay & Lesbian Health Victoria and the Victorian AIDS Council /Gay Men’s Health Centre.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Anna Brown, who led the development of the research paper  which shares stories of men harmed by the continuing legacy of convictions for consensual homosexual conduct, said the report is based on historical and comparative legal research and considers a number of issues the Government will have to grapple with when progressing this important reform.

For more information and a copy of the Report, visit: www.hrlc.org.au for details.

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