Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday gave a powerful speech to state parliament apologising for the state’s historic anti-gay laws.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Victoria in 1981 but before that, men could be sentenced to up to 15 years in jail for having consensual gay sex.
“It’s never too late to put things right. It’s never too late to say sorry and mean it,” Mr Andrews (pictured, left) said.
“There was a time in our history when we turned thousands of ordinary young men into criminals and it was profoundly and unimaginably wrong.”
“It’s our responsibility to prove that the Parliament that engineered this prejudice can also be the Parliament that ends it,” Mr Andrews continued.
“That starts with acknowledging the offences of the past, admitting the failings of the present and building a society, for the future, that is strong and fair and just.
“Let these words rest forever in our records, on behalf of the parliament, the government and the people of Victoria: For the laws we passed, and the lives we ruined, and the standards we set. We are so sorry. Humbly, deeply, sorry.”
Mr Andrews said he’d learned of two women who were convicted for offensive behaviour in the 1970s for holding hands on a Melbourne tram.
“So let me finish by saying this: If you are a member of the LGBTI community, and there’s someone in your life that you love – a partner or a friend – then do me a favour,” he said.
“Next time you’re on a tram in Melbourne, hold their hand. Do it with pride and defiance.”
Victoria Opposition leader Matthew Guy also joined the apology, saying it was “long overdue”.
Former Victorian premier Denis Napthine first introduced the laws to expunge the gay men’s criminal records in 2014, and Mr Andrews told parliament yesterday that six men had successfully applied, and many more had commenced the process.
A rainbow flag flew outside Victoria’s Parliament House yesterday.
Noel Tovey, a celebrated Aboriginal dancer and choreographer who was convicted of homosexuality in 1951, told the ABC he hoped the Victorian government’s apology would empower young LGBTI people.
“They’re going to be able to point to the law and say to their mother or father or parents that the Government now accepts homosexuality,” he said.
“The apology means finally the government is recognising homosexuals as human beings.”