Tasmania apologises for unjust anti-LGBT criminal laws

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman has apologised to people charged under Tasmania’s previous laws that criminalised homosexuality today.

Parliament is also considering the creation of a scheme to allow people who were charged or convicted of crimes for consensual homosexual activity or cross-dressing to apply to have these charges removed from their criminal records.

Lee Carnie, a lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre said the apology was an important acknowledgement of the injustice of Tasmania’s old laws and that the proposed expungement scheme would have a practical impact on the lives of many men.

“Sex between consenting adults should never have been criminalised. This apology will help repair the harm caused by these unjust laws and moving forward sends a clear message to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people that they are valued members of the community,” said Ms Carnie.

Tasmania was the last Australian state to carry out the death penalty for sodomy in 1867. In the subsequent hundred years Tasmania had the highest rate of imprisonment for private consenting male sex anywhere in the world.

Until 1997, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were charged and convicted of offences ranging from sodomy and gross indecency to cross dressing.

“Today unknown numbers of people live with the shame and stigma caused by these unjust criminal convictions. They’ve also faced tangible barriers to work, volunteering and travel because of police check requirements. So the opportunity to have their criminal records cleared will be most welcome,” said Ms Carnie.

The Human Rights Law Centre provides legal assistance to those who have been unfairly burdened by criminal records imposed when the law criminalised homosexual sexual relations and has successfully advocated for similar schemes and apologies in a number of Australian jurisdictions.

One such client is David*, who was in his mid-20’s when he was convicted in Tasmania of gross indecency in the 1950s for consensual activity with his partner at the time. David remembers being convicted by a court in Hobart and placed on a 25 pound good behaviour bond for 2 years. He was also assessed as having a ‘psychological sexual distortion’ by the Medical Hygiene Department in Tasmania.

More than 60 years later, David’s ‘gross indecency’ charge remains on his criminal record. David’s only criminal charges relate to consensual same-sex activity and he would not otherwise have a criminal record.

“I’m in my 80s but I would still very much like the opportunity to clear my name and have my criminal record in Tasmania destroyed,” said David.

David has been diagnosed with an incurable illness and Ms Carnie hopes the scheme will be up and running in time for David’s wish to be fulfilled.

“These unjust laws have cast a long shadow over the lives of our clients for decades. Loving another man should never have been a crime. This apology is crucial to repair the hurt caused by such unjust laws,” said Ms Carnie.

Tasmania’s apology and expungement Bill follow similar schemes introduced in Victoria, NSW and the ACT, and all remaining states have now committed to reform.

South Australia was the first to include historical homosexual convictions in its spent convictions scheme in 2013 but is yet to allow for convictions to be fully ‘expunged’. Last year there were state apologies delivered in the parliaments of Victoria and South Australia to LGBTI people for past discriminatory criminal and other laws.

For free and confidential legal support and advice about an historical homosexual or cross dressing conviction please contact the Human Rights Law Centre’s Expungement Legal Service on (03) 8636 4458 or expungement@hrlc.org.au.

For further comments or information please contact:

Tom Clarke, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0422 545 763

*Not his real name