Putting the ‘International’ Back into IDAHOBIT: Supporting International LGBTI Rights

This post is part of a series looking at the unfinished business of LGBTI equality in Australia. You can see the rest of the posts here

 

Today we celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia and Intersexphobia (variously abbreviated as IDAHO, IDAHOT, IDAHOTB or IDAHOBIT).

 

In Australia, we do a relatively good job of focusing on what the day means in terms of the challenges that remain in order to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights – domestically anyway.

 

However, we are much less successful in remembering the first word in the day’s title, and highlighting the even greater barriers left in addressing and overcoming homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia globally.

 

As the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) confirms in its recently-published State-Sponsored Homophobia Report 2019 (p15):

 

As of March 2019, there are 70 Member States (35%) that criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts: 68 of them have laws that explicitly criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts and 2 more criminalise such acts de facto. In addition, other jurisdictions which are not UN Member States also criminalise such acts (Gaza, the Cook Islands and certain provinces in Indonesia).

 

A significant number of these countries are within our region. In Oceania, that includes:

 

Country Maximum Penalty for Homosexuality
Cook Islands 14 years imprisonment
Kiribati 14 years imprisonment
Papua New Guinea 14 years imprisonment
Samoa 5 years imprisonment
Solomon Islands 14 years imprisonment
Tonga 10 years imprisonment
Tuvalu 14 years imprisonment

 

There are a number of other countries that criminalise same-sex sexual activity in South-East Asia, too:

 

Country Maximum Penalty for Homosexuality
Brunei 10 years imprisonment
Malaysia 20 years imprisonment
Myanmar 10 years imprisonment
Singapore 2 years imprisonment

*As well as some provinces within Indonesia, including Aceh.

 

And Australia has another important connection with a large number of countries that still criminalise homosexuality around the world, with half being members of the Commonwealth (including more than half of countries within the Commonwealth itself).

 

Therefore, while Australia might have fully decriminalised homosexuality in 2016 (when Queensland finally equalised the age of consent for anal intercourse), there is still a long way to go on this issue internationally.

 

ilga_sexual_orientation_laws_map_2019

Source: ILGA

 

Of course, there is even further to go – both domestically and internationally – for trans and gender diverse people to have the right for their identity documentation to reflect their gender identity based on self-declaration, and to be able to live their lives free from discrimination, violence and in some countries criminalisation. For more, see ILGA’s 2017 Trans Legal Mapping Report.

 

And, as on so many issues, progress on intersex rights has lagged even further behind, with very few countries following Malta’s 2015 lead in banning coercive surgeries and other involuntary medical treatments on intersex people. That includes Australia, too, with governments at all levels failing to implement the recommendations of the 2013 Senate Inquiry on this subject in the intervening six years. [Unfortunately, I am note aware of an equivalent State-Sponsored Intersexphobia/Intersex Legal Mapping Report].

 

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. There has been some significant progress in recent years on at least some of these issues, not least of which was the historic September 2018 decision by the Supreme Court of India to declare section 377 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional, thereby legalising homosexuality in the second most-populous country on earth.

 

That case, after years of amazing advocacy by Indian activists, helps make the following graph look much more encouraging:

 

ILGA Criminalisation by Population Graph copy

 

Nevertheless, there are still far too many countries where people are not free to love who they love, not able to identify with their gender and be protected against discrimination, violence and criminalisation, and not subject to coercive surgeries and other involuntary medical treatments because of their sex characteristics.

 

So, what can Australia do? There are a range of ways in which Australia can better support progress on LGBTI rights internationally, including the following:

 

  1. Support decriminalisation as a key priority of foreign policy

 

Australia should support decriminalisation for all LGBTI people around the world as a key human rights objective of our foreign policy. This should include a primary focus on decriminalisation within our region, as well as within the Commonwealth.

 

Unfortunately, the most recent Foreign Policy White Paper makes exactly zero references to supporting LGBTI human rights (despite my submission calling for their inclusion).

 

Of course, achieving this goal depends on partnership with communities within these countries, not only because they are best placed to know how to advocate for decriminalisation, but also because Australia acting unilaterally would risk entrenching anti-LGBTI policies and laws.

 

  1. Support LGBTI rights through international human rights architecture

 

This includes using our current term on the United Nations Human Rights Council to prioritise LGBTI rights, as well as actively supporting the reappointment of the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. And it also includes regularly raising LGBTI rights issues within the Commonwealth Heads of Government framework (with the next CHOGM meeting in Rwanda next year).

 

Australia could also consider appointing an Ambassador for LGBTI Rights in the same way that we have appointed an Ambassador for Women and Girls.

 

  1. Support LGBTI rights through foreign aid

 

Another way in which Australia can better support LGBTI rights internationally is by supporting LGBTI human rights through our foreign aid policies (and of course by ensuring our foreign aid Budget is increased overall, after a series of mean-spirited and unjustified cuts under the Liberal-National Government have reduced it to 0.19-0.21% of GDP, far short of the UN target of 0.70% and far short of our capacity, and responsibility, as one of the richest countries on the planet).

 

This could include funding for international LGBTI associations, such as the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), OutRight International and Kaleidoscope Trust, as well as other human rights organisations that include a focus on LGBTI rights (such as Human Rights Watch). It also means actively supporting the Commonwealth Equality Network, and LGBTI organisations working towards decriminalisation within our region.

 

  1. Accept LGBTI refugees and people seeking asylum

 

We should acknowledge that, while the aim is to ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are safe everywhere, this is not currently the case and will not be possible in some places for some time. Australia should therefore ensure its refugee framework helps to protect LGBTI people fleeing persecution, including through appropriate assessment processes, and providing improved support services post-resettlement. Oh, and that obviously means not detaining, processing and settling LGBTI refugees offshore, including in countries that criminalise them (for more, see Australia’s (Mis)Treatment of LGBTI Refugees).

 

  1. Set a better example on LGBTI rights domestically

 

Australia’s ongoing (mis)treatment of refugees, including LGBTI people seeking asylum, raises another key challenge – in order to better support human rights internationally, we must be seen to respect human rights domestically. That is obviously not currently occurring when it comes to our refugee policy.

 

It is also not the case in terms of our own treatment of trans and gender diverse people. We must make sure all states and territories follow Tasmania’s recent lead in guaranteeing access to identity documentation on the basis of identity not surgery. And we must finally make long overdue progress on intersex human rights, including protecting the bodily autonomy and integrity of intersex children against coercive surgeries and other involuntary medical treatments.

 

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As we commemorate International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia and Intersexphobia (IDAHOBIT) today, we should by all means celebrate how far we have come within Australia, as well as highlighting those challenges that remain domestically. But we must not forget the ‘International’ focus of the day, and the important role Australia can play in making progress on LGBTI rights everywhere, for everyone.

 

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Submission re Queensland Bill to (Finally) Equalise the Age of Consent

Updated 19 January 2017:

The Queensland Parliament voted to equalise the age of consent on Thursday 15 September 2016 (as reported by the Guardian Australia here: ‘Queensland votes to equalise age of consent for all sexual acts’).

This reform, which means the age of consent for anal sex is lowered to 16, to match the age of consent for other forms of sexual intercourse, removes a provision that had a disproportionate impact on young gay, bisexual and same-sex attracted men for a quarter of a century (myself included).

Queensland was the last jurisdiction in Australia to equalise its age of consent, coming years, and in most cases decades, after other states and territories.

Original Post:

The Queensland Government has introduced a Bill to, amongst other things, finally equalise the age of consent for anal intercourse.

This legislation – the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 – was referred to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee for detailed consideration. The details of their inquiry can be found here.

The following is my submission:

Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee

lacsc@parliament.qld.gov.au

Friday 22 July 2016

To the Committee

Submission re the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission about the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (‘the Bill’).

In this submission, I will focus on Part 2 of the Bill, namely those provisions seeking to amend the Queensland Criminal Code.

Specifically, I write to support the long overdue equalisation of the age of consent for anal intercourse in Queensland.

I do so as a gay man who was born in Queensland in 1978, and who lived there until 1996, although now lives in Sydney.

The above dates mean that, for the first 12 years of my life, homosexual acts were criminalised I my home state – and I recall being vaguely aware of this fact, that ‘gay = criminal’, as I grew up in Central Queensland.

I am also old enough to remember, in slightly more detail, the historic passage of legislation in 1990 that decriminalised sex between men.

Indeed, it was only a couple of months later, when I first arrived at the religious boarding school in Brisbane that would be my home for the following five years, that I first started to realise that I was gay myself.

What I didn’t fully comprehend for another couple of years – but had certainly figured out by the time I turned 16 – was that the Goss Labor Government, and Queensland Parliament more generally, had left the important job of decriminalisation only half-done.

While they decriminalised sex between adult gay and bisexual men, they had also introduced a new form of discrimination – with the age of consent set at 18 for anal intercourse (which they referred to as ‘sodomy’), and 16 for everything else.

Admittedly, this new law technically applied to anal intercourse between anyone – meaning that 16 or 17 year old cisgender heterosexual people engaging in this form of sex were also criminalised – but it is clear they were not the real ‘targets’.

The Parliament knew it. The media knew it. The LGBTI community knew it. And this (then) teenage gay boy, even though he was still deeply entrenched in the closet, knew it too. This law was primarily concerned with prohibiting same-sex activity among teenage males.

For the years 1994 to 1996, while I was aged 16 and 17 and still living in Queensland, I was fully aware that the law treated me differently simply because of my sexual orientation.

For whatever reason – whether it was blatant homophobia, personal distaste or ‘squeamishness’ about anal intercourse, misguided beliefs about health risks or malicious stereotypes about homosexual ‘recruitment’ – my state’s lawmakers had decided to single me, and people like me, out as being lesser than our peers.

It was just one more reminder of the societal homophobia surrounding me, everywhere I looked, and one more factor that made it extremely difficult to come out to my family and friends.

I also believe it contributed to the lack of any LGBTI sexual health education during my time at high school (although obviously the religious nature of the school played a part too), something that was actually a health risk (especially given these were the peak years of deaths from AIDS-related illness in Australia, before the advent of life-saving treatments).

Of course, my story is by no means unique – there have literally been tens of thousands of young gay and bisexual men who have grown up in Queensland since the passage of the unequal age of consent in 1990. And, just like me, many of them have experienced adverse consequences due to these discriminatory laws.

Indeed, the explanatory memorandum of the Bill notes that “[s]ome in the community have identified the inconsistent age of consent for anal sex in the Criminal Code as a barrier to young people accessing safe sex education regarding anal intercourse, with gay and bisexual youth being denied peer acceptance and community support.”

It further observes that “[t]he panel [convened to consider this issue] noted that young people in same sex relationships may feel compelled to withhold information about their sexual history from their health practitioner for fear of the possible legal consequences, whether for themselves or their partner. This may have implications in terms of the young person’s access to appropriate medical treatment and also has the impact of stigmatising their relationship.”

Finally, “[t]he expert panel considered that using the term sodomy may stigmatise this form of intercourse, and homosexual relationships in particular.”

In my view, these are all compelling reasons to equalise the age of consent between anal intercourse and other forms of intercourse, and to update the language that is used in the Criminal Code to be more accurate and inclusive.

What is disappointing, even distressing, is that it has taken successive Queensland Governments more than 25 years to agree with this position and to finally take steps to remedy this injustice.

That’s a quarter of a century of prejudiced provisions, in the state’s criminal law, applying to young gay and bisexual men.

A quarter of a century sending a message to people that they are not equal simply because of who they are.

A quarter of a century limiting the sexual health education provided to young gay and bisexual mean.

A quarter of a century undermining the ability of tens of thousands of people, just like me, from accessing health services without fear of discriminatory treatment.

A quarter of a century of the Queensland Government and Parliament telling the LGBTI community, in yet another way, that is was not worthy of their respect.

And so, while I congratulate the decision by the Palaszczuk Labor Government to introduce this Bill to belatedly equalise the age of consent, and look forward to it being implemented later this year, I cannot help but take this moment to also reflect on, and condemn, the failure of previous Governments – from the Goss Labor Government, to the Borbidge Coalition, Beattie and Bligh Labor and Newman Liberal-National Governments – to remove these abhorrent provisions from the Queensland Criminal Code.

Their inaction on this issue has undeniably been to the detriment of generations of young gay and bisexual men, and it should not be forgotten.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Wayne Goss

Former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss, whose election victory in 1989 led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality 12 months later. But, for 16 and 17 year old gay and bisexual men, full decriminalisation has taken another quarter of a century.

Submission to QLRC Review of Expunging of Criminal Convictions for Historical Gay Sex Offences

Update: 17 January 2017

The Queensland Law Reform Commission’s report on ‘Expunging criminal convictions for historical gay sex offences’ was tabled in Queensland Parliament on Tuesday 29 November 2016. You can find a copy of the report, which was actually completed in August 2016, here.

After tabling the report, Attorney-General the Hon Yvette D’Ath expressed the Palaszczuk Labor Government’s commitment to progressing legislation to create an expungement scheme.

As reported by the Brisbane Times (‘Government outlines path to expunging historical gay convictions’), Ms D’Ath said:

“This is a chance for some closure for Queenslanders who continue to be hurt by the legacy of decades-old discrimination, wrongs inflicted by a past regime, from a very different Queensland from the modern state we enjoy today…

“As a parliament, we should apologise to those Queenslanders for these historic wrongs and for the hurt that followed them in the decades since.”

The recommendations included in the QLRC report, which is the starting point for legislation that is expected to be introduced in the first half of this year, appear reasonable.

The QLRC also notes, on page iii, that:

“At present, the age of consent is generally 16 years but is 18 years for sodomy. If the age of consent for sodomy were changed to 16 years prior to or in conjunction with the commencement of the proposed expungement legislation, applications for expungement in respect of eligible offences would be decided by reference to the age of consent of 16 years.”

This is obviously welcome (given it was included in my original submission – see below), especially now that the age of consent has in fact been equalised.

However, the report also recommends that expungement should apply with respect to:

“an offence under sections 208(1), 208(3), 209 or 211 of the Criminal Code, as in force prior to 19 January 1991 (the ‘date of legalisation’) except as constituted by heterosexual activity”.

When read together, there is a risk that these two recommendations will create the perverse situation that a gay or bisexual man, who was successfully prosecuted for male-male intercourse involving at least one party who was 16 or 17 years old will be able to have that conviction expunged where it occurred before 1991 – but will not be able to do so if it occurred between 1991 and the (long overdue) equalisation of the age of consent in 2016.

This is an issue that Attorney-General D’Ath specifically, and the Queensland Government generally, must address – because nobody should be subject to a criminal record in 2017 simply because of their sexual orientation, and that applies irrespective of whether the conduct occurred before ‘legalisation’, or ‘equalisation’.

 

Original post:

The Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) is currently undertaking a review into the possible establishment of a scheme to expunge criminal convictions for historical gay sex convictions in that state. Details of the review, including a Consultation Paper, can be found here.

Submissions response to that paper are due on Tuesday 29 March 2016. The following is my submission:

The Secretary

Queensland Law Reform Commission

PO Box 13312

George St Post Shop QLD 4003

lawreform.commission@justice.qld.gov.au

Tuesday 22 March 2016

To whom it may concern,

Submission on Review of Expunging of Criminal Convictions for Historical Gay Sex Offences

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in response to the Consultation Paper on this important subject.

In this submission I will attempt to answer the nine separate questions asked in the Consultation Paper[i].

I will also make two additional recommendations addressing issues that, while not specifically raised in the Paper, are closely tied to those that are and, I believe, must be addressed at the same time.

Overall, I welcome the interest of the Queensland Government in considering a scheme to allow LGBTI people generally, and gay and bisexual men in particular, to have unjust charges and convictions expunged from their criminal records.

Consensual same-sex sexual activity should never have been criminalised, and, in my opinion, it is doubly unjust to leave these charges and convictions in place, potentially to be held against people decades after they were originally penalised under these discriminatory laws.

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Joh

Former Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

First, to some context to explain why I am particularly interested in this review. I was born in Central Queensland in 1978, roughly halfway through the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era. I am therefore old enough to remember at least parts of the fierce debates around the potential decriminalisation of male homosexuality in the late 1980s[ii], as well as the extraordinary homophobia and hysteria that accompanied the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic throughout that decade.

I also remember, vaguely, the passage of legislation decriminalising male homosexuality by the Goss Labor Government in November 1990[iii].

That achievement – the decriminalisation of same-sex sexual intercourse between adults[iv] – happened only a couple of months before I first realised that I was gay, and I am obviously thankful that this reform was in place before I reached adulthood.

However, I am not thankful that the Goss Government failed to accept the recommendation of the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC)[v] to introduce an equal age of consent for both homosexual and heterosexual sexual activity, but instead decided to set the age of consent at 16 for most sexual activities, but at 18 for ‘sodomy’ (that is, anal intercourse)[vi].

The principle set out by the CJC: “[i]t would accord with principles of sexual equality and anti-discrimination that the age of consent for males and females be the same irrespective of whether the sexual act is heterosexual or homosexual”[vii], was clearly sound.

By ignoring this principle, the Goss Government potentially exposed me to criminal prosecution, including a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment – because, during the time I was 16 and 17 years old (1994 to 1996), had I engaged in non-oral penetrative sex I could have been charged with, and convicted of, ‘unlawful sodomy’[viii].

While, prima facie, this offence applies to both heterosexual and homosexual conduct, and therefore some might describe it as non-discriminatory in nature, it simply cannot be denied that the impact of this unequal age of consent falls disproportionately on young same-sex attracted men.

Using my own situation, my heterosexual peers could engage in at least some types of non-oral penetrative sex without the fear of criminal prosecution, while I, obviously, could not. This disparity was unjust then, in mid-1990s Queensland. And it is extraordinarily unjust now.

It is almost unfathomable that, in 2016, the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse remains in place under Queensland law – rendering it the only place in Australia to maintain such a distinction. The Borbidge, Beattie, Bligh, Newman and (so far) Palaszczuk[ix] Governments have all failed to finish the job left only half-completed by the Goss Government more than 25 years ago.

Goss

Former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss, who ended the long rule of the National Party in 1989, and decriminalised homosexual activity between adults in 1990, but left the job half-complete by introducing an unequal age of consent for anal intercourse.

There are three main reasons why I am raising this issue here, as part of my submission to a review looking at expunging criminal convictions for historical gay sex offences:

  1. The objective of the proposed expungement scheme is to provide redress to people who have been unjustly punished because of discriminatory criminal laws, or the discriminatory application of criminal laws. In this context, we should not avoid the fact that, in 2016, there remain some criminal laws that, because of the type of conduct that is prohibited, continue to place an unjustifiable and discriminatory burden on young gay and bisexual men in particular.
  2. It is highly likely that there are men who have been criminalised due to this discriminatory age of consent in the 25 years since homosexual intercourse between adults was first legalised in Queensland but who, because most expungement schemes do not apply to conduct that remains subject to criminal sanction, would nevertheless not be allowed to have their criminal records expunged, and
  3. In my opinion, it makes no sense whatsoever to establish a framework to expunge ‘historical gay sex offences’ from criminal records while, at the same time, maintaining other criminal laws that mean there will likely be more people who are penalised as a result of the discriminatory application of those offences into the future.

For all of these reasons, I believe that the age of consent for anal intercourse, currently 18, must be made equal to the age of consent for other types of sexual activity, 16, either prior to or at the same time as the establishment of a scheme to expunge historical gay sex offences[x].

To not do so – leaving the current discriminatory age of consent in place – is not only unjust, it would also mean that, at some point in the future, when the age of consent is finally equalised, the expungement scheme will need to be amended to add all of those people unnecessarily penalised since the passage of the Criminal Code and Another Act Amendment Act 1990.

Recommendation 1: The Queensland Government should equalise the age of consent for anal intercourse, by making it 16 instead of 18, prior to or at the same time as any expungement scheme takes effect.

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The following section will address the nine questions asked in the QLRC Consultation Paper.

  1. Is there a need to change the law to introduce a new scheme for expungement?

Yes, I believe there is a clear need for a new legislative scheme to address this issue. The existing pardon scheme is not capable of providing appropriate redress to all of the people affected by these discriminatory criminal laws, or discriminatory application of criminal laws. Nor does it achieve the removal of convictions from a person’s history, which is an essential component of any scheme.

Spent convictions are also substantively different in nature from expungement, minimising the consequences of previous convictions (although even then not for all purposes, such as applying for some positions), rather than acknowledging the wrongness of, and attempting to remove, convictions that should never have been imposed in the first place.

For this reason, my preference would be to have a separate act for an expungements scheme. However, if it is included in existing spent convictions legislation, there should be clear delineation between the two concepts.

  1. Which criminal offences should be covered by an expungement scheme, and how should they be defined?

The criminalisation of same-sex activity extended beyond sexual activity to include prosecution for a range of other offences where they would not otherwise have been prosecuted if not for their sexual orientation.

For this reason, the expungement scheme should also extend beyond covering offences such as ‘buggery’ and ‘indecency between males’, to include offences such as soliciting, and it should not be limited solely to male same-sex activity (while noting that it will nevertheless predominantly be men who are affected).

It should also include attempting or conspiring to commit, or inciting, any of the eligible offences. And, as I made clear above, it should include people criminalised due to the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse.

In terms of how the offences are identified or defined, I suspect it would be difficult to list, from the outset, all relevant offences where people were prosecuted primarily because of who they were.

As a result, I prefer the combined option suggested in the Consultation Paper[xi], whereby known offences could be included in the legislation, other offences could be added by regulations where necessary, and a description test could be included to ensure that additional offences could be expunged where they are shown to be relevant in individual cases.

Finally, I am not opposed to consent, age and lawfulness being included as criteria for expungement – provided the age of consent for anal intercourse is lowered to 16, otherwise a range of people would be prevented from being able to seek redress because of the ongoing unjustified and inappropriate criminalisation of this activity.

  1. Should an exungement scheme also apply to charges for an offence or other legal processes related to a conviction?

I prefer the Victorian approach, which applies to the conviction, the charge to which the conviction relates and “any investigation or legal process associated with that charge or the conviction.”

This is important given the ever-expanding requirement to disclose charges and other matters (beyond simply convictions) in a range of circumstances, and the increased sharing of such information between Australians jurisdictions.

  1. Should an expungement scheme be confined to living persons?

No. I believe appropriate representatives (such as a spouse, parent, child or sibling) should be able to apply for expungement, as is the case in the ACT, NSW and Victoria. This is because the injustice of the discriminatory application of criminal laws does not change simply because the person charged or convicted has since died.

  1. What type of scheme should it be?

While it would be ideal to be able to adopt a scheme that operated automatically, expunging criminal records of individuals without first compelling them to effectively re-visit the injustice perpetrated on them by having to make an application for expungement, I do not believe this is possible, especially because the past criminalisation of same-sex activity included some offences that would remain criminal today (for example, where there was no consent).

As a result, I believe Queensland should follow the approach adopted by South Australia, the ACT, NSW and Victoria in establishing a ‘case-by-case’ scheme – noting that such a scheme must be adequately funded to limit any delay to people who have already been denied justice for too long.

In terms of deciding who the decision-maker should be, my preference would be for the establishment of an independent panel – although that may not be possible depending on the resources allocated to this scheme. In which case, an administrative scheme (overseen by the Director-General of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General) would ensure accessibility, flexibility, privacy and lower cost (and align with the approach adopted in Victoria, NSW and the ACT).

  1. When should a conviction be expunged under a scheme (the criteria for expungement)?

From my perspective, while the overall purpose of the scheme is to provide redress for people who would not have been charged but for the fact the activity was of a homosexual nature, the specific criteria that should be applied should be consent (where it is relevant), age and lawfulness (that is, whether the activity would constitute a criminal offence today).

However, as I have already made clear in this submission, in relation to age the scheme should also cover people who have been prosecuted as a result of the unequal and discriminatory age of consent that has operated in Queensland since the decriminalisation of adult same-sex sexual activity.

  1. What should be the effect of ‘expungement’ under a scheme (the consequences of a conviction becoming expunged)?

The governing principle should be to, as far as possible, restore the person’s position at law as if the charge or conviction had never been imposed. That would suggest that the Government should adopt more, rather than fewer, protections against disclosure.

I would support:

  • The person not being required to disclose information about the expunged conviction
  • A question about the person’s criminal history being taken not to refer to the expunged conviction
  • In applying an Act to a person, a reference to a conviction being taken not to refer to the expunged conviction
  • In applying an Act to a person, a reference to the person’s character not allowing or requiring anyone to take the expunged conviction into account and
  • Ensuring that the expunged conviction or its non-disclosure is not a proper ground for refusing to a person, or dismissing the person from, an appointment, post, status or privilege and that the person may reapply if such was refused solely on the basis of the conviction before it was expunged.[xii]

It also means that there should be criminal offences to disclose information about an expunged conviction, from records kept by or on behalf of a public authority, or by a person with access to official records, and to fraudulently or dishonestly obtain information about an expunged conviction from records kept by or on behalf of a public authority.[xiii]

Although the exceptions nominated in the Consultation Paper – such as being a disclosure to or with the consent of the person, or to inform a public authority holding information about convictions that the conviction itself is expunged – also seem reasonable.[xiv]

In terms of whether official records should be annotated or destroyed, I am drawn to the Victorian approach, where official records of convictions are annotated to record the fact that the conviction is expunged, and where entries about an expunged conviction in electronic databases or extracts of official records are to be removed, made incapable of being found, or de-identified. This is because undertaking these actions is likely to assist in preventing the further disclosure of these records.

Finally, I do not take a position on whether an expunged conviction should be able to be revived. While in theory such a safeguard appears necessary, based on the experience in the UK, and in Australian states and territories that have adopted expungement schemes to date, it is unlikely that large numbers of people will have their records expunged, thereby reducing the risk of an inappropriate expungement that ultimately requires reversal.

  1. What procedural features should an expungement scheme have, and how should it operate?

Again, I am drawn largely to the Victorian approach (although most features are shared across schemes). This would include allowing the person convicted of the offences to apply, or the guardian of the convicted person to apply if the convicted person is unable to apply because of a disability.

It also includes the application being required to be in writing, in an approved form, incorporating:

  • The person’s name, date of birth and address at the time of the application and at the time of the conviction (where known)
  • When and where the person was convicted and details of the offence and
  • Authorising a police record check and giving consent to the disclosure to the decision-maker of official records created by the courts, police or office of public prosecutions relating to the conviction,

but not requiring the person to include the transcript or sentencing remarks (as mandated in South Australia)[xv].

I also support the person having the opportunity to include supporting information or statements, and evidence of the other person(s) involved, as well as being able to withdraw an application, and being given an opportunity to provide further information before an application, which is proposed to be refused, is finally decided (as required in NSW and the ACT).[xvi]

In terms of the decision-making process itself, while I support the decision-maker being able to request or require further information from the applicant, or from another person or body, I do not believe the decision-maker must have regard to any available record of the investigation or proceedings. I also support the approach in NSW, Victoria and UK, where an oral hearing is not to be held.[xvii]

Given the need to provide justice to people who have already been denied justice for too long, I support the approach in Victoria, requiring an application to be determined “as promptly as possible”. Procedural fairness would also dictate that an applicant be provided with written notice of the decision, including reasons. In order to ensure that the records are actually expunged, the notice of the decision should also be given to the ‘data controller’ for official records held by the courts, police and the office of public prosecutions.

Finally, in terms of review processes, I support the right to re-apply, following an earlier refusal, where additional supporting material becomes available. People who have their application refused should also be able to seek review of the decision by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (which would be consistent with the ACT, NSW and Victoria), although I do not support the right of the ‘data controller’ to seek review of a decision to approve an application.

  1. Are there any other matters that should be considered?

Yes. As discussed in the Consultation Paper[xviii], I support consequential amendments to the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 to ensure that people cannot be discriminated against on the basis of charges or convictions that have since been expunged.

I also support amendments to the Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000 – and any other scheme that considers historic offences for registration or eligibility – to guarantee that expunged charges and convictions are not able to be accessed or considered.

Finally, in terms of resources, there are two distinct needs. The first is for an education campaign to raise awareness amongst people who may have been affected by past criminalisation, and to provide information about their options under the scheme. Such a campaign should be funded by the Government and delivered in partnership with Queensland LGBTI community organisations.

The second would be the direct provision of legal advice and assistance to people who wish to pursue their rights under the scheme, as well as access to counselling and other related services where relevant.

**********

There is one final issue that, although not considered in detail in the Consultation Paper, is, in my view at least, intrinsically linked to a scheme designed to provide redress to people who have experienced injustice because of the criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity.

It is my sincere belief that, at the same time as the Queensland Parliament (hopefully) passes legislation to establish an expungement scheme, it should also offer an apology to all those who have suffered adverse consequences as a result of this unjustified and inappropriate criminalisation.

As I have made clear earlier in this submission, I believe this apology should also be extended to people who have been criminalised as a result of the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse that has been in operation since homosexual sexual activity between adults was first legalised.

While symbolic, an apology to all of these people would be an important step not just towards healing the wounds of the past, but also towards demonstrating the commitment of the Queensland Parliament to ensure that similar injustices are not perpetrated again in the future.

Recommendation 2: That, at the same time as it passes legislation to establish an expungement scheme, the Queensland Parliament should offer an apology to all those who were subject to criminalisation for same-sex sexual activity in the past, including those who have been criminalised because of the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse.

**********

Thank you for taking this submission into account as part of this important review. If you would like more information, or to clarify any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

[i] QLRC, Consultation Paper: Review of expunging of criminal convictions for historical gay sex offences, p23-40.

[ii] I was unusually interested in politics and current affairs as a child – some things never change.

[iii] Criminal Code and Another Act Amendment Act 1990.

[iv] By repealing then sections 208 (Unnatural offences), 209 (Attempt to commit unnatural offences) and 211 (Indecent practices between males) from the Queensland Criminal Code.

[v] Criminal Justice Commission, Reforms in laws relating to homosexuality: An information paper, 1990.

[vi] Section 208 of the reformed Criminal Code still creates the offence of “Unlawful sodomy: A person who does, or attempts to do, any of the following commits a crime – (a) sodomises a person under 18 years; (b) permits a male person under 18 years to sodomise him or her… Maximum penalty – 14 years imprisonment.”

[vii] Op cit, page 60.

[viii] Obviously, this law would also have applied had I been 18 or 19 and had a partner who was a year or two younger than I was – something that is not uncommon, and a situation that would not attract criminal prosecution if it involved vaginal intercourse.

[ix] Although I understand that the Palaszczuk Labor Government is currently seeking advice on this issue, from an expert panel including ‘health experts’: Brisbane Times, Queensland Government considers lowering age of anal sex consent to 16, August 20 2015.

[x] Irrespective of the current review by the Palaszczuk Government (see above), I believe this is an issue that the QLRC should also consider in detail given it is inherently linked to its consideration of an expungement scheme.

[xi] QLRC Consultation Paper, Option 4, page 26.

[xii] All options from QLRC Consultation Paper, ibid, pages 33-34.

[xiii] Ibid, pages 34-35

[xiv] Ibid, page 35.

[xv] Ibid, page 36.

[xvi] Ibid, page 37.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid, page 39.

10 Things I Hate About Marriage Inequality. #9: Because sometimes I feel guilty for having #firstworldproblems

Have you ever felt that pang of guilt that we in Australia spend so much time campaigning for marriage equality when so many of our LGBTI comrades around the world are fighting for things that are even more fundamental, like the right to simply be who they are without fear of criminal prosecution?

I must admit I have – sometimes, when I am writing my umpteenth submission calling for the right to simply marry my fiancé, or attending my 20th or even 30th rally supporting marriage equality, I do feel slightly guilty for having what on twitter might be referred to as #firstworldproblems (albeit of a far less trivial nature than complaints like ‘my raisin bran had too many raisins in it this morning’).

When you look at this recently released map from ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association):

ILGA 2016

ILGA, June 2016.

and see large sections of the globe coloured orange (where being gay is a criminal offence) and even dark red (countries which have the death penalty for homosexuality) – and they are at least as large as, and include many more people, than the sections which are dark green (ie countries and states that have full marriage equality) – then experiencing such guilt might seem understandable.

Now, before I get roundly slammed for expressing this view, I acknowledge that this perhaps says more about me than about the Australian marriage equality movement per se. I also recognise that these thoughts are likely the products of internalising a couple of the arguments which have been used against LGBTI equality for some time.

The first, that people elsewhere have it worse off than us (undoubtedly true), and that we should be grateful for what we have (also true – although from my perspective I am grateful to the activists who have brought that situation about), is essentially an attempt to say that we already have ‘enough’ rights, and therefore should stop campaigning for more.

This argument is easy to reject – just because we have already achieved some rights (decriminalisation, anti-discrimination protections etc), doesn’t mean we should accept anything less than full equality – and that includes exactly the same legal recognition of our relationships as already enjoyed by cisgender heterosexual couples.

However, the second, related argument is a little more difficult to dismiss out of hand, and that is that there are bigger and more important issues in the world, and consequently we should be concentrating our efforts on those instead.

In the domestic context, this type of argument is used by marriage equality opponents to say that jobs, the economy, health, education – indeed, all manner of things – are more important than marriage equality, and that we should just ‘drop it’ and put those other issues first.

Of course, our straightforward response to that argument is that Parliament is capable of dealing with more than one issue at a time, and therefore there is no need to put things like marriage equality on the backburner until somehow all of those other issues are magically ‘fixed’ first.

In the international context, the argument would go something like: given there are still roughly 75 countries where being gay is a crime, achieving decriminalisation globally is far more important than campaigning for marriage equality in countries like Australia where we already enjoy most substantive rights, and therefore that is where we should exert all our energies.

Based on the domestic example (above), the most logical response is to say that we are capable of doing both – that there is absolutely no reason why we cannot simultaneously campaign for marriage equality within Australia (and similar countries), while also supporting movements for decriminalisation elsewhere.

But, and here’s the important thing, the strength of that argument is based on us actually DOING both. If we only look at improving our own (already quite privileged) lot, and effectively ignore the struggle for more basic equality from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in other countries then, at the very least, we expose ourselves to the potential criticism that we are being indulgent (even if most would see such criticism as unfair).

That is not to say that anyone should feel guilty for campaigning for their own individual equality or rights – and not just because, as I have discovered perhaps a little late in life, guilt is not an especially productive emotion. To me, one of life’s great joys lies in finding the strength to stand up against the discrimination or prejudice that we encounter.

But I guess I am saying that, if we are interested in campaigning for full equality for ourselves, by securing marriage equality domestically, we should also see that struggle in its appropriate context, and also devote some of our time and effort to helping the fight for equality by our LGBTI comrades in other countries.

NB If, after reading this, you agree with me and want to do more (or even if you disagree vehemently with what I’ve written but still want to help international LGBTI equality), here are five groups which you might consider joining/supporting:

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).

No 5 Homosexuality Still Criminal in 77 Countries

The past four posts have looked at one issue (marriage equality, both domestically and around the world) and gay rights in two specific countries, Russia and India.

The subject matter of each of these four posts has received significant media coverage – for some pretty obvious reasons. Same-sex couples seeking the right to marry provide both a ‘human interest’ story, and usually some compelling images to accompany it. Putin’s crackdown on LGBTI Russians has inevitably received widespread attention, particularly in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics. And it is pretty hard to ignore the re-criminalisation of homosexuality in a country with more than 1.2 billion people.

But, comparatively, it has been much easier for the media to ignore the ongoing criminalisation of homosexuality in 77 countries across the world (including India after the recent Supreme Court decision, but excluding Russia where, despite the anti-propaganda law homosexuality itself remains legal).

To put that figure into perspective, that is five times the number of countries that have full marriage equality (or more than four times the number of countries including those where some parts have adopted marriage equality, like the United States). So, while some parts of Europe and North and South America (together with South Africa and New Zealand), push forwards towards full equality, more than a third of countries around the world still treat homosexuality as a criminal offence.

This includes 38 countries in Africa, while 41 countries come from the Commonwealth (which is pretty extraordinary when you consider there are only 53 member states in total).

Tragically, the are five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – where homosexuality attracts the death penalty, while capital punishment also applies in parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

Which is a scandalous state of affairs, and something that the media – including but not limited to the LGBTI media – should report, and reflect, more on.

There have been some encouraging recent signs – in terms of coverage, if not subject matter. Over the past week, moves to increase criminal penalties in Uganda and Nigeria have attracted attention globally. The murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe in Cameroon mid-year was also covered, as have, periodically, anti-gay developments in Zimbabwe, Iran and elsewhere.

What has also been encouraging during 2013 has been the debate, within the Australian LGBTI community, about the need for advocacy for global LGBTI rights. Sparked in part by the situation in Russia, there has finally been a discussion about the relative priority we give something like marriage equality, compared to decriminalisation around the globe.

After all, while we are fighting for the right to walk down the aisle, our LGBTI comrades elsewhere are fighting simply for the right to exist. I’m not suggesting that we have those priorities right – in fact far from it. But I get the feeling that we are closer to achieving a better balance at the end of 2013 than at the beginning.

Some of the organisations that have helped to promote the global push for decriminalisation include the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA: http://ilga.org), AllOut (https://www.allout.org), the Kaleidoscope Trust (http://kaleidoscopetrust.com), and of course Amnesty International (a link to the NSW LGBTQI Network here: http://www.amnesty.org.au/nsw/group/12065/). I would encourage you to support any or all of them.

One final point I would like to make is that there are things that the Australian Government can and should be doing with respect to this issue, not just raising it (diplomatically, in all senses of the word) through international forums and bilaterally, but also by providing aid to global campaigns for sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status equality.

One special burden which falls upon Australia is its own responsibility for the criminal laws which still exist in our former ‘colony’, Papua New Guinea, which were in place before Independence in September 1975. Because of that fact, it is imperative that the Australian Government – and the Australian LGBTI population generally – helps to encourage moves in our closest neighbour to decriminalise homosexuality. Hopefully that day, not just in PNG but right across the South Pacific, is not too far away.

No 6 India’s Supreme Court Re-criminalises Homosexuality

One of the more disappointing developments of the year was also one of the last in terms of LGBTI rights. On 11 December, India’s Supreme Court effectively re-criminalised homosexuality in the world’s second most-populous nation.

They did so by overturning the Delhi High Court’s July 2 2009 decision in Naz Foundation v Govt of NCT of Delhi, which had found that section 377 of India’s penal code was unconstitutional in so far as it applied to sex, including gay sex, between consenting adults.

While the Supreme Court did find that section 377 was discriminatory and that gay sex between consenting adults should not be criminal, it nonetheless decided that the matter is one for Parliament to resolve, rather than the Courts, and consequently ‘revived’ the application of section 377 to homosexuality.

For its part, the Indian Government has expressed its disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision. Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress Party, described section 377 as “an archaic, unjust law”, while Finance Minister P Chidambaram is reported as saying that the ruling had taken India “back to 1860” (the year the law was first introduced).

In the past 24 hours, the Indian Government has filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking it to review its decision to reinstate section 377, on the basis that it “violate[s] the principle of equality.”

The Law Minister, Kapil Sibal, has tweeted that “[t]he government has filed the review petition on Section 377 in the Supreme Court today. Let’s hope the right to personal choices is preserved”.

What they haven’t done is commit to introducing legislation to overturn section 377 themselves, instead preferring to hand it back to the judicial branch of government to resolve. Which means that, for however long the petition takes to resolve, consensual sex between same-sex attracted adults will remain a crime in India (after the all-too-brief 4 and a half year era of decriminalisation).

The decision not to legislate at this stage is obviously a tactical one. A national election is due before 31 May 2014, and with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) adopting a more hard-line conservative position in response to the decision, there is the potential for them to use the issue as a pre-election wedge.

However, if the BJP and its Coalition parties do form government next year then, as well as making it unlikely that legislation to decriminalise homosexuality will be passed by parliament, it will also throw the status of the current Government’s petition to the Supreme Court (assuming it hasn’t been heard) into doubt.

In short, the situation is a bit of a mess.

But, before we judge too harshly the efforts to date of India’s Parliament on this issue, including those of the Congress Party-led Government, it is important to remember where the original blame for section 377 lies.

After all, we are expecting the current Indian political (and judicial) system to clean up the mess left by the British imperial Government of the 19th century. Just like other European ‘colonial’ powers, the British left a legacy of legal – and cultural – homophobia in its wake.

In fact, the British were especially talented at spreading homophobia around the world. More than half of all countries where homosexuality is illegal in 2013 are current members of the Commonwealth of Nations (more on that topic in the next post).

Indeed, the actions of the British Empire during the 19th and 20th centuries place a special burden on the United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand) to do whatever they can to assist fellow Commonwealth countries along the path towards decriminalisation.

Nevertheless, despite the original blame for section 377 lying elsewhere, the people with the power to finally abolish it are in India – either on the judicial, or parliamentary, benches. Here’s hoping they find the courage to do so shortly, and allow millions of LGBTI people to return to living their lives free from the threat of prosecution, or police intimidation.