The Northern Territory Government today formally apologised to people convicted under historic laws against consensual homosexual acts.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner (pictured) told parliament the apology was not only for the law that “criminalised love and attraction” between same-sex couples until 1983, but for the opportunities stolen from those convicted.
“Today is about making right,” Mr Gunner said. “It is about making right on hurtful and discriminatory laws tolerated, supported or actively perpetuated by Northern Territory governments.
“Today is about saying to our lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex and queer community: We were wrong.
“Laws criminalising homosexuality were wrong. Laws criminalising love and attraction were wrong. And historical convictions stemming from these laws were — are — wrong.”
Mr Gunner acknowledged the shame the laws had caused and the damage they had inflicted on the LGBT community.
“Tucked in between laws about kidnapping and incest is this: ‘Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned for life with hard labour,’” he said.
“The brutality of that language — ‘the abominable crime of buggery’ — the equating of homosexuality with bestiality. This was the law of the land until 1983, within most of our lifetimes.
“More so, the brutality of the message: You are not worthy. You are not welcome. You are an abomination.”
Mr Gunner, with tears in his eyes, said: “Australia has come so far — later this year I will be a proud brother at my sister Lucy’s wedding to her long-time partner Jill.”
But he also pointed out that it was unknown how many people had been impacted by the law.
“We don’t know how many people still alive will step forward to have their convictions struck from the record once this bill is passed,” he said.
“Likewise, we don’t know how many suffered in secret. We don’t know how many men refused treatment for HIV out of shame and fear of ostracism.
“This is our shame, not theirs.”
Mr Gunner said he hoped to see the “last vestiges of homophobia and transphobia” removed from NT laws.
“Let’s work together so government is a force for inclusion, not discrimination,” he said.
Rainbow Territory (RT) member Jane Black welcomed the apology and and the establishment of a scheme to have criminal records for historical and consensual homosexual acts expunged.
“This apology acknowledges the deep wrongs that occurred against gay men in particular, and also sets expectations for wider LGBTQI law reform into the future,” she said.
A review into “modernising” the Territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act is currently underway, and advocates argue the expungement scheme should not signal the end of changes to public policy.
“Another key step is updating the act to remove all discriminations based on sexuality or gender identity,” Black said.
“We don’t want to be righting the wrongs to do with the Anti-Discrimination Act in five or 10 years time.”