IN 1951 when Noel Tovey was 17, he was arrested after police raided a party at the Melbourne home of female impersonator Max du Barry, allegedly beaten, and charged with having homosexual sex.

“In places like Melbourne and Sydney, sophisticated cities, you can come out and you can live the way you want to. In my day you couldn’t come out, and parties were talked about in whispers. You were invited,” Tovey told the Star Observer.

While Tovey’s conviction remains, in January the Victorian Government announced it would introduce legislation to allow people with convictions for consensual gay sex offences no longer considered crimes to apply to have those convictions expunged.

A highly respected performer, director and Aboriginal elder, Tovey’s support behind the announcement provided weight to an issue that has a profound effect on many men in Victoria.

He said it was not only the stigma and shame of carrying a conviction, but the impacts of being exposed and dragged through the courts that could be profound and horrific.

“We’re not talking about being charged and everyone forgetting, we’re talking about being charged and being stoned,” he said.

“I became a loner. I used to go out at night to the Newmarket pictures by myself. I’d walk down by the canal, I’d take all sorts of shortcuts, and one night when I was coming back from the pictures—I used to leave before the lights came on because I didn’t want anyone to see me—I was attacked, gang raped, and a week later I had the clap.

“People who were charged, people who were destroyed by the newspapers, I can’t express it properly because I get too emotional about it, even today I get emotional about it.”

Although rights groups have called for a formal apology to be a part of any process going forward, calls welcomed by some men with historical convictions, Tovey said it wouldn’t mean as much to him. He argued expungement was the only way to redress the injustices.

The specifics of the Victorian Government’s legislation have yet to be determined, but Tovey also expressed concern over the process men with convictions would have to go through to have them expunged. He compared it to the potential discomfort of older people having to go to Centrelink in person and declare their sexuality to a young staff member.

Tovey said he hoped the conversation within the gay community sparked by the proposed legislation would help younger gay men understand the struggles of men who came before them.

“Most young people I talk to can’t believe what gay men of my age went through growing up and having to hide it all,” he said.

“I think they now can see that life wasn’t easy for my generation, but that our work and our struggles and our jail terms and everything else has made it possible for them to enjoy the life they have.”

 

 

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