NT Government formally apologises to those convicted under unjust gay sex laws

NT Government formally apologises to those convicted under unjust gay sex laws

UPDATE (4:05pm Tuesday 8 May): The expungement bill  - which will allow people to apply to have old charges and convictions for consensual same-sex activity removed from their criminal records - has just passed through the NT Parliament.

The Northern Territory Government today delivered a formal state apology to people convicted under historic laws against consensual homosexual acts. Chief Minister Michael Gunner issued the apology.

Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the apology would help to heal past wounds.

“It’s never too late to put things right. There was a time when governments around Australia turned thousands of innocent men and women into criminals all because of who they love. It was profoundly cruel and wrong. Sex between consenting adults should never have been criminalised. This is an important step towards righting the wrongs of the past,” said Ms Brown.

Dino Hodge, a long-time gay rights advocate who has campaigned for this reform in the Territory, said the apology would ease the hurt still felt acutely today by so many people.

“The Chief Minister’s apology means so much to our community. It is an acknowledgement of the harm these unjust laws caused, and a clear sign that we can now move forward with our lives,” said Mr Hodge.

Daisy Mae Taylor, an elder of the community, said the apology would be welcomed right across the Territory.

“The apology can’t undo the wrongs of the past, but it sends an important message to people like me, who lived through that time, and younger generations, that we are accepted for who we are,” said Mr Taylor.

Laws which criminalised consensual same-sex activity were in place in the Northern Territory up until 1984.

“I consider myself one of the lucky ones to have escaped. I wasn’t arrested and charged but I know men that were. Sadly, many have already passed away with convictions for things that should have never been considered a crime,” said Mr Taylor.

This historic moment coincides with the Territory Parliament resuming debate on a bill which would allow people who have criminal convictions for these offences to apply to clear their name. All other states and territories have introduced similar bills with the WA Government currently considering a bill.

“We shouldn't underestimate the human toll of these laws. Convictions for homosexual offences have restricted employment, volunteering and travel opportunities for decades. More fundamentally, these convictions are a source of ongoing grief and deep personal shame for the individuals affected. The charges should never have happened, now they should be removed,” said Ms Brown.

“If this bill passes, it would mean closure. It would mean full equality when it comes to laws which criminalised us for who we were. After 30 years, it would mean that we would have finally achieved what we had set out to do,” said Mr Hodge.

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 activity and has successfully advocated for similar schemes and apologies in a number of Australian jurisdictions.

 

For interviews please contact:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, 0419 100 519.