THE Victorian Government has announced that it will make a formal state apology to the men who were convicted of consensual gay sex crimes before homosexuality was decriminalised in the state.

The announcement, made by Premier Daniel Andrews at Melbourne’s Pride March yesterday, comes after Victorian Parliament passed the historic gay sex convictions expungement bill in 2014 — which allow affected men to apply to have any historic convictions of consensual homosexual sex removed from their records as if they never existed in the first place.

Andrews said that while the expungement reforms made an incredible difference, a formal apology was still in order.

“It was a pretty dark chapter in our state’s history,” he told the Star Observer.

“Through the passage of time there have been many men who couldn’t or wouldn’t apply to have their criminal records expunged for a range of reasons.

“They’re all owed an apology and they’re all going to get a full and frank one on the floor of parliament… I can’t think of a more important step we could take.”

Andrews added that the apology would send a message about equality to the gay men who were convicted before homosexuality was decriminalised in Victoria in 1981.

“It tells them you are safe, you are respected, and you are valued for just being who you are, no more and no less,” he said.

Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre advocacy director Anna Brown said the move would help improve the relationship between the government and Victoria’s sexual and gender diverse community.

“A formal state apology can begin to repair the harm caused by discriminatory laws of the past and build foundations for greater understanding and trust between the government and the LGBTI community into the future,” she told the Star Observer.

“Acknowledging and accepting responsibility for the legacy of these laws will not only be significant for those with convictions but also the much wider circle of people who suffered from the climate of prejudice and hate fostered by the criminalisation of homosexuality.”

Daniel Andrews Martin Foley

Premier Daniel Andrews making the announcement at Midsumma Pride March. (PHOTO: Matthew Wade; Star Observer)

Before homosexuality was decriminalised in Victoria, men could be sentenced for up to 15 years in prison for having consensual sex with men.

Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Sean Mulcahy believes the government’s announcement marks how far the state has come.

“It’s fantastic news for the people that were convicted of something that should never have been a crime,” he told the Star Observer.

“I hope this can be seen as a sign that those times when we saw homosexuality as a crime are so far past us now.

“Now we live in a community that embraces the diverse sexual orientations and gender identities that make up Victoria.”

Equality Minister Martin Foley said it was important to remove the stigma and burden given to the men who lived with the historic convictions for years.

“It’s been 36 years since the decriminalisation of male-to-male sex, and what we’ve done in those intervening years is burden those people with stigma and discrimination, as well as practical difficulties around family, employment, and the freedom to travel,” he told the Star Observer.

“So for us to say as a parliament on behalf of Victorian people that this is a heartfelt apology helps to say that for 36 years we have not as a community done the right thing by them.”

The state apology will take place on Tuesday, May 24.

For all of Star Observer’s Midsumma coverage, click here

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