PREMIER Mark McGowan has this week apologised to hundreds of people who were charged under old anti-homosexual laws, and introduced legislation to allow people to have their record wiped clean.
Laws against homosexuality were officially on the books in WA until 1989, but the height of the police crackdown was during the 50s and 60s when they would try to entrap gay men, or barge into a gay-friendly venue like Roo on the Roof in Fremantle and arrest everyone.
Even though it’s no longer illegal, some older people still have convictions against them, and even if they’re spent they can still cause issues with background checks and when travelling overseas.
GLBTI Rights in Ageing said the apology and legislation were highly significant.
“Laws which criminalised homosexual acts effectively criminalised whole generations of gay men,” said GRAI chair June Lowe.
“These discriminatory laws therefore had a deleterious effect on all gay men, not just those who were convicted and charged.
“State sanctioned discrimination affected all aspects of gay men’s lives: having to be secretive for fear of losing work or housing, or potentially being rejected by ones friends or families, and many lived (and some still do live) in fear of reprisals and endured the stress of internalised shame.
“Sadly, these discriminatory laws also negatively affected the heterosexual society, in that they reinforced uncompromising attitudes which marginalised gay men. Our society is still grappling with the residual effects of this mind-set: we are all made poorer by prejudice.
“For these reasons, the premier’s apology and the introduction of the Expungement Bill has enormous healing potential, for all gay men and also for the wider community. Acknowledging that historical discriminatory laws were wrong and taking steps for reparation invites everyone to let go of past hurts and hurtful behaviours and work towards a society that celebrates diversity.
“Recent debates on marriage equality have demonstrated that there is still much work to be done before we can lay claim to being an unprejudiced country. The LGBTI community has struggled for decades for recognition as equal citizens and these progressive actions by the WA government are a tribute to their persistence.
“We unreservedly welcome the premier’s apology and the expungement bill. These are of great moment in the history of LGBTI rights, moving us closer to ensuring legal and cultural safety for everyone, irrespective of their sexuality or gender identity”.
In a speech to parliament last year, Maylands Labor MP Lisa Baker led the push to have their records completely expunged and to ask for an apology to these men.
“I’m just so pleased that within our first 12 months of being elected that we’ve put this legislation before parliament,” Ms Baker said.
“For the 200 or more people who still carry the weight of a conviction, all these years later, for something which is no longer considered a criminal offence and never should have been considered a criminal offence in my view, they finally have a chance to clear their names once and for all.”
by DAVID BELL