WITH LGBTI rights clearly on its agenda after restoring civil unions in the state late last year, Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor government has taken the next step towards expunging the historical convictions of homosexuality for hundreds of gay men in Queensland.
The process was started under the former Newman LNP government by former Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie two years ago and will finally be seen through to fruition later this year, according to current Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath.
[showads ad=MREC] “This is about doing what is right, what is fair and what is just for all Queenslanders,” D’Ath said.
“And it delivers on a significant election commitment we made to the people of this state.
“This is a complex issue due to the technicalities of Queensland’s Criminal Code and the historic nature of these cases.”
Announcing the Queensland Government was referring the expungement issue to the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) with recommendations as to how past convictions for homosexuality can be quashed, D’Ath said the Commission process was to ensure expungement would be ideally dealt with.
“The QLRC will use its experience to consider the best approach to expunge these historical criminal convictions. This sends the clear message that outdated and intolerant attitudes towards our gay community belong in the past,” she said.
“Referring this issue is an important step that shows we are serious about delivering on our election commitment to remove these archaic convictions from the criminal histories of men who should never have been charged.”
A discussion paper started by the former government took submissions from gay men across Queensland, most who wished to remain anonymous.
However, Alan Raabe is one man happy to speak out about his experience of being entrapped by a policeman in Cairns in 1988 when he was 32.
“I was entrapped by, who I found out later on to be, a fairly notorious police officer known for his entrapment of gay men who lured me into a park very late a night,” Raabe told Star Observer.
“It was a very clear case of entrapment but there was nothing I could to challenge that. What they did was very wrong.
“He asked me a very specific question and after warned me that what I would be charged with would depend on my answer. I wasn’t given the opportunity for legal advice or support or anything.
“When I answered the question honestly, as my father was a policeman and I was always brought up to respect them, he charged me with aggravated sexual assault for brushing up against him.”
On what a criminal conviction on his record meant to him, Raabe said that his life had been irrevocably impacted.
“It prevents you from doing so much work and holds you back in so many aspects of life. In my particular case I wanted to be a teacher and was undergoing study to get a degree,” Raabe said.
“At the conclusion of that I was advised to not even bother applying with teacher registration because of my conviction.
“It prevented me from pursuing a career, and a love and passion that I had always wanted to do. It was heartbreaking.
“My charge even prevented me from volunteering throughout my life, even I time I wanted to do some work for a disability group on the Gold Coast.”
Involved right from the beginning of the former government’s discussion paper, Brisbane Pride Festival President and Queensland University of Technology Law lecturer, Dr Peter Black, said expungement was an issue that needed to be dealt with swiftly.
“While a commitment to legislate for the expungement of historic gay sex convictions is important, this issue is not resolved until legislation is passed by the Parliament,” Black told Star Observer.
“As such, I would encourage the government to act quickly as a number of Queenslanders continue to live with ongoing stigma, shame, and practical difficulties presented by a criminal record for conduct that is now legal.”
“Apart from the importance of this to those Queenslanders, this reform would also be a recognition that those laws should never have been on the books to begin with, which is of symbolic importance of the LGBTI community.”
With other states and territories dealing with the issue of expungement over the past few years, Black said whether the state would likely adopt similar measures taken elsewhere would be up to the QLRC. It was helpful bipartisan support had been offered which should expedite the process, he added.
“After the preliminary discussions with the former Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, the LGBTI Legal Service worked with legal groups, community organisations and community members to develop a discussion paper. We presented that discussion paper to the current Attorney-General, Yvette D’Ath, in September last year.
“I also met with the Shadow Attorney-General, Ian Walker, last year and obtained the LNP’s support for the expungement of historic gay sex convictions (as well as the abolition of the homosexual advance defence).”
Other commitments made to the LGBTI community during the 2015 state election included dealing with other gay law reform issues facing Queensland, including age of consent and the gay panic defence.
Speaking earlier today, D’Ath indicated that she was in discussion about resolving the other two issues at the same time as expungement towards later this year.
“Our laws have acknowledged consensual homosexual sex as legal since 1991. It’s time to ensure that members of our community are not burdened by criminal convictions for something that should never have been a crime in the first place.”
On what expungement would mean to him, an emotional Raabe said that it would allow him to be at peace within himself.
“Another area that I don’t really talk about a lot is that affects you so mentally and emotionally. You think to yourself ‘holy shit, I must have done something so horribly wrong and I must be a bad person if they had done this to me’,” Raabe said.
“You start to blame yourself for stuff…and to have [records expunged] and have it be acknowledged that it wasn’t my fault at all, it will just mean everything.”
Raabe said that expungement had only got to where it is today due to the team working to advocate for him and hundreds others behind the scenes.
“This process has opened my eyes to the fact that I’m not the only one who this has happened to. There are hundreds of us,” Raabe said.
“It has to be acknowledged that there has been a huge team behind getting expungement into the spotlight and see the political attention it has received, and fighting this fight today.
“If it wasn’t for them the politicians wouldn’t have done anything. It’s only because of them taking up our voices that the politicians have heard. Today is a wonderful step in that process.”
The QLRC is expected to report back by the 31st of August after a statewide consultation with public and legal stakeholders.