The Tasmanian government has apologised to LGBTI people affected by historic laws criminalising gay sex and cross-dressing.
The apology, issued by acting attorney-general Matthew Groom, came as Tasmanian politicians spoke in support of a bill that will allow people convicted under historic laws barring sex between men and cross-dressing to have those convictions expunged.
In 1997 Tasmania became the last Australian state or territory to decriminalise homosexuality. It was the only jurisdiction to ever criminalise cross-dressing.
Groom said the bill would remove the ongoing stigma surrounding people convicted under these laws.
"The government apologises to the LGBTI members of our community and their families who were hurt and negatively affected by convictions recorded as a result of these laws," he said. "We are sorry."
Premier Will Hodgman told the parliament that historic laws threatened gay men with the prospect of jail because of their sexual orientation.
"They were stigmatised, shamed... subject to hatred, discrimination and violence, often with tragic consequences," he said.
"Despite the repeal of homosexual offences, some men continue to have criminal records that affect various aspects of their lives, such as their work, volunteering or travelling.
"It's something they have to live with every day – a criminal record for something that today is accepted as lawful. It's hard for those of us not in that situation to imagine what it would feel like."
Offences involving gay sex that was illegal for other reasons – for instance, it was not consensual or involved an underage person – will not be eligible for expungement.
Hodgman also praised attorney-general Dr Vanessa Goodwin, who was recently diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, for her efforts in preparing the legislation and consulting with the community.
Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson Rodney Croome hailed the apology as a historic moment that will help LGBTI Tasmanians.
"The message to those LGBTI Tasmanians who were convicted for being themselves is that the island society that once rejected them now embraces them," he said.
"The government's legislation will directly benefit those people who were convicted under our old laws against homosexuality and cross-dressing by ensuring their criminal record does not appear whenever they apply for a job or a volunteer position.
"But an apology from the Premier will go even further because it will help heal the damage inflicted by our old laws, including blackmail, ostracism, ignominy, hate crimes and even sometimes suicide."
In 2016 Victorian premier Daniel Andrews also apologised to people convicted of historic gay sex offences, while South Australian premier Jay Weatherill made a general apology to the LGBTI community for past unjust laws.
Australian states and territories vary in how they have dealt with people affected by historic gay sex convictions.
Victoria, NSW and the ACT have introduced schemes to expunge the offences, while Queensland has committed to a scheme but is yet to legislate. The Northern Territory government is seeking advice on the issue and has signalled it may be a complex process.
In South Australia a 2013 amendment allowed people convicted of historical sex offences to apply to have their convictions “spent” – but not expunged. This is also the case in Western Australia, where it is illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of a spent conviction.
When a conviction is “expunged”, it is erased in the eyes of the law. The conviction no longer shows up on police records, people are not required to disclose it for any reason and they cannot be denied a job because of it.
A conviction being “spent” only allows the criminal record to be amended after a time period of not offending – in SA and WA it is 10 years. There are also certain circumstances where a spent conviction must be disclosed.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at email@example.com.
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