Apology for laws criminalising homosexuality and the harms caused

24 May 2016

24 May 2016

Ms RYAN (Euroa) — It is with pleasure that I rise today to contribute to the motion to take note of this formal apology to Victoria's homosexual community — an apology for the injustices wrought, for wrongful charges and for the hurt that laws passed by this Parliament perpetrated on gay Victorians. It is with great pride that I stand here as a member of the coalition, which introduced legislation to right these wrongs in the last Parliament. I am certain that today's apology will have enormous and lasting significance. It is a moment of acknowledgement and a moment of healing for our state.

I wish to particularly acknowledge the dignity and the strength with which those here in the gallery today have held themselves in the face of these historical wrongs. It is an important moment because it sends a message of not only apology but also acceptance. In that way it is important not just for those who suffered under those horrific laws but also for the wider gay community. It is important for many of my own friends and for members of the communities I represent. It is important for Victoria as a state.

It is difficult perhaps for members of my generation, who have grown up in not a perfect but a more tolerant world, to truly appreciate the depth of feeling of those involved or to understand the power of an apology in helping people with the healing process. And not for a moment do I wish to suggest that all is okay for LGBTI people in our state. Verbal and physical abuse still occurs. Earlier in the year one such case was highlighted to me when a young gay man was verbally attacked in Carlton, a community that I would have thought to be one of the most tolerant in our state. We have a long way to go to address homophobia, but that change begins with us and the message that today's apology sends.

As other speakers have laid out, the former coalition government brought an amendment to the Sentencing Act 1991 to recognise that homosexual sex between consenting adults should never have been a crime. These were not just historical convictions. Until last year when the legislation took effect they continued to impact the lives of those men who were convicted. They were a reminder of the discrimination they faced for being gay. At the time Premier Denis Napthine acknowledged the ongoing harm and hurt these convictions had on those who were prosecuted and the significant personal difficulties they faced as they sought employment, travelled or even applied for a working-with-children check. He told the Parliament:

They were convictions that should never have appeared there, and it is about time they were expunged.

I wish to pay tribute, as others have before me, to the very many people from Victoria's LGBTI communities who have campaigned tirelessly for this moment. The emotion that was in the chamber today, as every member of this house stood in their place to support the motion and the jubilation of those gathered in Queen's Hall to watch the Victorian Parliament pass this apology, supported by all sides of politics, was palpable.

I also acknowledge the work of the former member for Prahran, Clem Newton-Brown, who, moved by the story of Noel Tovey, about whom many people have spoken today, was instrumental in bringing these changes about. Clem followed in the footsteps of Premier Rupert Hamer and Attorney-General Haddon Storey, who first decriminalised homosexuality in 1981. Clem has described the passing of the bill to expunge criminal convictions as the highlight of his time as the member for Prahran.

I have previously spoken in this house about my concerns about the suicide rate of LGBTI young people, particularly in rural and regional Victoria. Beyondblue conducted a study in 2011 which concluded that lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians are twice as likely to have a high to very high level of psychological distress as their heterosexual peers. Same-sex-attracted Australians have rates of suicide attempts up to 14 times higher than their heterosexual peers as a result of minority stress and discrimination and exclusion. The changes made by the coalition in the last term of Parliament were important because, like today's apology and like the passing of laws to legalise same-sex adoption, they sent a message to same-sex-attracted and gender diverse people in our communities that they are equal under law.

So today I wish to add my voice and give my full and unreserved apology for the decisions and the laws which led to injustice, distress, persecution and shame. Those laws were Victoria's true crime.

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