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Righting the wrongs of Queensland’s homophobic past: Government to allow to clear unjust convictions

Posted October 11, 2017

Overnight, the Queensland Parliament passed a law that will provide a way for people to have convictions for consensual same-sex activity removed from their criminals records.

Emile McPhee, Executive Director of the LGBTI Legal Service, said the Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017 can assist to repair the lifelong trauma people have endured.

“The goal of those reforms is to ensure that individuals affected by those convictions or charges no longer need to disclose them in any circumstances and to go some way towards repairing the significant and lasting harm that these have had on Queenslanders,” said McPhee.

Phil Browne, Convenor of the Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group said that it was important to recognise the lasting impact and suffering caused by the historic laws.

“Despite the Legalisation of Gay Sex Act 26 years ago, people with these convictions for consensual activity remain convicted criminals. They haven’t been able to apply for certain jobs or travel to certain countries. They may have endured public arrests leading to being fired, shunned by family and friends, kicked out of accommodation, named in newspapers, and even feeling they were run out of town,” said Browne.

With the new law Queensland joins Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT in providing a system for people to clear their records of unjust convictions.

Peter Black, Vice-President of the Queensland AIDS Council, said the old laws not only impacted upon the individuals convicted for consensual sexual activities, but also contributed to a political climate that sought to marginalise the LGBTIQ community.

“These wounds run deep, which is why it is vital that any expungement scheme be advertised and accessible to a particularly vulnerable cohort of people who have lived through decades of criminalisation, discrimination and stigma,’ said Black.

For those who have died with their convictions active, the reforms present an opportunity for families to restore dignity and respect to their memory and name.

Lee Carnie, a Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017 will help repair the harms caused by convictions leftover from when homosexual activity was illegal.

“We welcome the Queensland Government’s important step to help people whose love was criminalised by unjust laws. It’s not only a symbolic win, it will also remove practical barriers imposed by these unfair convictions. This will allow people to move on with their lives. It’s great news, well done to all involved,” said Carnie.

While consensual homosexual activity was decriminalised on 29 November 1990, convictions for those offences remain on people’s records today. These offences need to be disclosed even decades later when applying for a BlueCard, government and other positions (such as a police officer), or a visa to travel overseas.

The Human Rights Law Centre has been proud to work alongside a coalition of LGBTI community organisations which have been lobbying for these reforms for many years — including the LGBTI Legal Service, Queensland AIDS Council, Caxton Legal Centre, Brisbane Pride, Community Legal Centres Queensland and the Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group.

Case study: Alan’s story

One man convicted under Queensland’s old laws was Alan Raabe who was convicted of sexual assault in 1988 after he made an overture to a plain clothes police officer at a well know gay beat.

“Being a criminal offence of a sexual nature, I had to abandon any hope of gaining teacher registration in Queensland. I had studied to gain a qualification, but was advised not to proceed with even an application for registration,” said Raabe.