Community leaders and human rights groups appeared before a parliamentary hearing today to support legislation to erase the criminal records of people convicted under unjust laws against homosexual acts and call for important improvements to be made.
Representatives from the LGBTI Legal Service, Queensland AIDS Council, the Human Rights Law Centre and Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group appeared before a public parliamentary hearing on the Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017.
Phil Browne, Convenor of the Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group said that it was important to recognise the lasting impact and suffering caused by the historic laws.
“Despite the legalisation of gay sex acts 26 years ago, people with these convictions for consensual activity remain convicted criminals,” said Mr Browne.
Emile McPhee, Executive Director at the LGBTI Legal Service, said “The goal of these reforms is to ensure that the individuals affected by these convictions and charges no longer need to disclose them in any circumstance. This would go some way towards repairing the significant and lasting harm that these laws have had on Queenslanders.”
Peter Black, Vice-President of the Queensland AIDS Council, said, “The Queensland AIDS Council saw first-hand the impact the criminalisation of homosexuality had in this State. These laws not only impacted upon the individuals convicted for consensual sexual activities but they also contributed to a political climate that sought to marginalise the LGBTIQ community. This made it even harder for the community and for us to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
Prosecutions under these laws were mostly for conduct that took place in public places and were regularly enforced by the Queensland Police Force.
The Human Rights Law Centre has provided legal assistance in other jurisdictions to men who have been unfairly burdened by criminal records imposed when unjust laws criminalised sexual relations between men.
Lee Carnie, Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said a major flaw needed to be remedied in the Bill. “The current overly broad definition of a ‘public place’ could mean that the majority of people affected by these laws wouldn't be able to apply to have their unfair conviction erased. Sex between consenting adults should never have been criminalised in the first place."
Having an outstanding criminal offence on your record for what is now consensual activity continues to have a practical impact on the lives of hundreds of Queenslanders.
“People can't apply for many jobs or travel to certain countries. They may have endured public arrests, leading to being fired, kicked out of accommodation, named in newspapers. People felt they were being run out of their own towns,” said Mr Browne.
“One of our clients arrested at a beat in Victoria described his conviction as a ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over his head, every day threatening to fall. When his conviction was erased, he told us he felt like a huge weight had been lifted. He felt free for the first time in 40 years," added Lee Carnie.
One man convicted under Queensland’s old laws was Alan Raabe who was convicted of sexual assault in 1988 after he made an overture to a plain clothes police officer at a well know gay beat.
“Being a criminal offence of a sexual nature, I had to abandon any hope of gaining teacher registration in Queensland. I had studied to gain a qualification, but was advised not to proceed with even an application for registration,” added Mr Raabe (Read more of Alan’s story here.)
Alan appeared before the committee today.
You can watch the appearance here:
For further comments or queries please contact:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519