Heartbreaking stories of Queensland men unjustly prosecuted simply for being gay have been told, as the state moves toward wiping the men’s criminal records.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Queensland in 1991, and a cross-party committee in state parliament is currently examining a bill that would allow the 464 people who were convicted of consensual gay sex to have those convictions expunged.
Queensland Law Society immediate past president Bill Potts recently told a committee hearing of one such couple he had represented, who had been in a relationship for 15 years.
“Police came to investigate them in relation to a completely unrelated, unjustified and unproven matter. Whilst the police were in their house talking to them they noticed photographs of them on the wall,” he said.
“The photographs of them were like most photographs: they were holding hands, they had their arms around each other. They were a loving couple in every single sense of the word.”
He said the couple told the police officers they weren’t involved in the unrelated offence and they were both homosexual.
“They were taken back to the police station where they were individually questioned about what they meant by being homosexual, what sexual positions they took, what they permitted and committed against each other in this relationship,” he recalled.
“As a result of that they were charged with offences of gross indecency. There was no complaint, no witnesses, no person was harmed, yet they found themselves standing in a dock in the District Court holding hands and being convicted of these terrible offences.”
He said a public furore surrounded the case at the time and the couple endured name-calling “as they entered the courtroom and left together, proudly.”
Potts said the government’s bill to expunge such offenses is “symbolic, it’s brave and it’s the right thing to do.”
“Does the bill have faults? Yes. Would I like compensation? For some of these people, I think that’s fair, not by way of unjust enrichment but as an acknowledgement of harm done in some cases,” he said.
Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group spokesperson Phil Browne said people with the convictions are still unable to apply for many jobs or travel to certain countries because of their criminal records.
“They may have endured public arrests leading to being fired, shunned by family and friends, kicked out of accommodation, named in newspapers and even feeling they were run out of town,” he said.
“Removing these convictions can assist to repair the lifelong trauma these people have endured.”
Alan Raabe has lived with a criminal conviction since 1988 when he was lured into a police sting targeting gay men at a Cairns beat and charged with aggravated sexual assault.
Raabe thanked the committee and gave his “1 million per cent” support for the reforms which he acknowledged were complex given the range of offences which were used at the time to charge gay men.
“As far as I am aware I’m the only person affected by these laws who has been prepared to speak publicly about this,” he said.
“I think this is possibly an indication of the fear and the shame that still surrounds this to this very day.
“To have these crimes expunged will go a huge way towards to dealing with this.”
Queensland AIDS Council vice president Peter Black said the laws “scared and scarred” members of the LGBTI community and made the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s even more difficult.
— Lee Carnie (@LeeHRLC) June 18, 2017
In May, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk apologised on behalf of the parliament and the people of Queensland to the gay men who were charged under the historical laws.
“Today we place on the record for future generations our deep regret and say to all those affected, we are sorry that the laws of this state – your state – let you down,” she said at the time.
The parliamentary committee looking at the expungement bill is due to report by July 14.
If you need someone to talk to, help is available. Call QLife on 1800 184 527, reach them online at QLife.org.au, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.