25 years ago, Tasmania finally decriminalised homosexuality

rodney croome tasmania decriminalisation homosexuality 1997
Image: Evolution Publishing (Melbourne Office) Collection, AQuA

It has only been 25 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in every state and territory in Australia. Tasmania was the last state to do so on May 1, 1997.

Before then, the state’s laws punished consensual sex between men with up to 25 years in prison.

LGBTIQ+ advocate Rodney Croome AM was central to the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in Tasmania. He said the 25th anniversary was an important time for reflection.

“It feels like a lifetime ago, and that’s because so much has changed since then,” Croome said.

“Tasmania has gone from the worst laws to the best in Australia.”

Societal attitudes in Tasmania have also changed immeasurably.

In 1988, Croome and other members of the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group set up a stall at Hobart’s famous Salamanca Markets to gather signatures on a petition to decriminalise homosexuality.

Citing the need to keep the markets “family-friendly,” the Hobart City Council subsequently banned the stall, and called the police to arrest the group members.

Reflecting on that time, Croome said it demonstrated how much community sentiment had changed.

“It is remarkable,” he said.

“It’s hard to imagine that that happened, given how far we’ve come.

“It is remarkable how much Tasmania has changed.”

On Sunday, Croome and others commemorated the 25th anniversary of decriminalisation at a special event at Government House.

Sports group Out Tennis organised the event, hosted by Tasmanian Governor, Hon Barbara Baker AC.

Rodney Croome says Tasmania’s strong laws need protecting

From the most oppressive anti-gay laws in the nation, Tasmania now boasts the strongest anti-discrimation legislation in Australia, something Rodney Croome said needs protecting.

“The anniversary comes at a particularly important time,” he said.

“There are many challenges at the moment.

“I think it’s important to reflect on how far we’ve come so we can continue to make changes.”

On a state level, Croome said banning conversion therapy practices and unnecessary medical interventions on intersex children remained key issues.

Federally, the government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill and anti-trans sentiments from Liberal candidate Katherine Deves were of concern.

“We need to stand with trans and gender-diverse people and the onslaught they are facing,” he said.

“We can’t take for granted anything we’ve achieved, we need to be alert to the dangers that face the laws that we’ve put in place.

“And we need to continue to make change by reflecting on the past and staying inspired for the future.”

Rodney Croome is now part of national LGBTIQ+ advocacy group Just.Equal. Find out more at equal.org.au.

(Top image: Miranda Morris, Richard Hale, Christine Milne, Aaron Myers, Rodney Croome, Nick Toonen, and Lavinia Savell celebrate following the Tasmanian Upper House passing gay law reform in 1997.)

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