Push to quash gay convictions

MAYLANDS MP Lisa Baker has called for WA’s parliament to expunge historic homosexuality convictions and offer an apology.

Laws against gays lingered until 1989 but to this day hundreds of men still have convictions on their record. The 1913 law said guilty people could be “imprisoned for hard labour for 14 years, with or without whipping”.

During her budget reply last week, Ms Baker referred to her campaign, calling the convictions “an embarrassing blemish on our moral obligations to a community that I care deeply about.

“We are now the only remaining Australian state that is yet to completely clear the records of these men,” Ms Baker said.

• Lisa Baker at the Palace Hotel. Photo by Steve Grant

• Lisa Baker at the Palace Hotel. Photo by Steve Grant

“I am talking about the unfair, and unfortunately often legal, targeting of gay men by the WA legislature, courts and police. It is pretty amazing to think that that was not that long ago, that it was a chargeable offence for two consenting adults to have sex with each other in our state.”

There were few places for gay men to meet back then. The Palace Hotel was a popular haunt in Perth in the 50s and 60s: Out in Perth reported one old timer saying: “It seemed to be an unwritten law that you went into the corner bar at the Palace.” By the 70s it was the Shaftesbury Hotel, “then all of a sudden we were down at His Maj, then the Green Room of the Perth Concert Hall”.

But these refuges were routinely raided by police, often using “entrapment” according to a 1991 Australian Institute of Criminology report.

Ms Baker says one of the frequent targets was Fremantle’s “Roo on the Roof”, Paul Rigby’s restaurant at 10 High Street.

“Police would routinely order everyone out of the Roo on the Roof in Fremantle, fill a police wagon with the most “gay” looking men and keep them in the lockup overnight for being drunk and disorderly”.

That was the lightest end of the harassment: “Police would often target high-profile men in the entertainment industry, television personalities and the like and use blackmail against them with a threat that their careers would be ruined if they were exposed for homosexuality,” Ms Baker said.

It was a massive black mark: Ms Baker says men “tarred with the same brush as paedophiles and considered the lowest of the low,” were unable to find work or travel overseas because of the convictions hanging over them.

Ms Baker says it’s not enough to simply offer spent convictions, as it won’t help people seeking security or firearms licences, or applying for jobs where you need a squeaky-clean record, such as a police officer or at the Perth Mint.

When Parliament lifted the law in the 1989 Act, it was begrudging and the debate was littered with gay insults.

Liberal MP Peter Foss moved to insert a preamble noting “parliament disapproves of sexual relations between persons of the same sex”. The Law Society described the wording as “highly discriminatory”.

MLC David Wordsworth called homosexuality “a filthy habit”.

Badge of pride

Barry House, who spoke against the decriminalisation, remains in office to this day, having said in 1989 he couldn’t decriminalise homosexual acts; “just as I could not contemplate the legalisation of incest”.

Ms Baker says it’d be best to have individuals apply rather than offer a blanket expungement. As premier Colin Barnett pointed out in Parliament, “some would prefer not to do it”.

Some old timers wear the conviction as a badge of pride, others, perhaps now in nursing homes, would prefer to just let it lie.

Ms Baker says it would not apply to convictions for having sex with under-age people.

Ms Baker is now drafting legislative amendments and told the Voice she hopes to get them in WA parliament later this year.


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