30th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW

Tonight, at midnight, it will be exactly 30 years since gay and bisexual adult men in New South Wales moved from being criminals to being able to engage in consensual sexual intercourse without fear of prosecution.

Then NSW Premier, the Hon Neville Wran MP’s, private member’s bill – the Crimes (Amendment) Act 1984 – had passed the NSW Parliament on 22 May, but did not take effect until the 8th of June, 1984.

This legislation, decriminalising male same-sex sexual intercourse (for people aged 18 or over – sadly, an equal age of consent had to wait another 19 years), was the product of 14 years of hard work and tireless campaigning of gay and lesbian (and of course some early trans*) rights activists.

From the founding of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) in September 1970, through the proliferation of gay liberation groups during the 1970s, to the courageous ‘78ers’ who resisted NSW Police violence at the first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras Parade, and the Gay Rights Lobby, formed in 1980 – as well as numerous other groups advocating for equality on the basis of sexual orientation – this achievement was truly a collective effort.

It is thanks to the courage of these activists, who stood up and fought for their (and our) rights, to be public and be proud at a time when they were threatened with criminal sanction for simply being who they were, that people like my fiancé Steve and I can enjoy, and even take for granted, such a wide range of freedoms today.

It is because of this that I simply wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for what they achieved, for themselves, for us and for future generations. To them, I say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

That’s one thanks for every year of freedom that we have enjoyed since the decriminalisation of homosexuality 30 years ago. To any of those activists who might one day read this post (highly unlikely, but then you never know), please know that we appreciate what was done, and that we owe you.

Of course, there is one way that we can try to repay at least a small part of that debt, and that is to continue pushing for legislation which allows all those who were convicted due to the homophobia of the criminal law – both before decriminalisation in 1984, and because of the unequal age of consent between 1984 and 2003 – to have those convictions expunged.

The Liberal Member for Coogee, Bruce Notley-Smith, is expected to introduce a private member’s bill to achieve just that later in June. We should lobby to ensure as many MPs as possible support this effort at redressing past injustices.

At the same time, the NSW Parliament should expressly apologise to all those harmed – both at the time and, for many, for a lifetime – by the homophobic laws which emanated from that place for far too long.

Legislation to expunge historical convictions, accompanied by a parliamentary apology for historic injustices, would be a fitting way to mark the 30th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW. Let’s do what we can to make sure it happens.

Decriminalisation campaigners, including Lex Watson, at the Gay Rights Embassy opposite then Premier Neville Wran's home in 1983 (source: Adrian Short as published in Sydney Morning Herald).

Decriminalisation campaigners, including Lex Watson, at the Gay Rights Embassy opposite then Premier Neville Wran’s home in 1983 (source: Adrian Short as published in Sydney Morning Herald).

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