IT’S easy to forget that just 30 years ago in NSW, gay men were being charged for loving other men.

They were criminalised, exposed publicly and lost their jobs and careers, families and communities as a result of institutionalised discrimination. We should never forget this injustice, and we have a chance send a message that our laws were wrong.

At the beginning of this year I called on the NSW Government to follow Victoria’s lead and legislate to expunge the criminal records of gay men charged with offences including sodomy and buggery prior to the decriminalisation in 1984. I began working with the Human Rights Law Centre and the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby towards getting legislation drafted and introduced.

Very fittingly, the first openly-gay member of the NSW Lower House and NSW Government, Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith has announced he will introduce legislation similar to the one that is soon introduced by Victoria’s Prahran state Liberal MP Clem Newton-Brown.

Along with the Labor, Greens, Liberal and National members of the NSW LGBTI working group, I will work to ensure NSW has the best possible legislation that is not just in time for this year’s 30 year anniversary of decriminalisation, but also to right this historic wrong that saw gay men criminalised for being who they are and loving who they love.

I’ve heard the stories of a number of men who were charged under these laws and know that such legislation will have a real and meaningful impact on them. The outdated and discriminatory charges have had a negative impact on their ability to seek employment and travel overseas.

The legislation should also seek to retroactively fix the past discrepancy in age of consent, and ensure men charged under unfair laws between 1984 and 2003, when the age of content was equalised, can also apply for their records to be expunged.

In addition, I will also work with my parliamentary colleagues to achieve an apology for the LGBTI community to acknowledge and remember the health and mental health impacts that homophobic and discriminatory laws have caused. I want the parliament to formally disavow the systemic police violence of that time, including at the first Mardi Gras on Saturday, June 24, 1978, and to recognise the loss of jobs, careers, homes and families, and the lasting repercussions on the lives of those arrested and “outed”.

As we start righting historic wrongs at home, it is also vitally important that we do what we can to help our LGBTI family around the world also achieve justice and equality. ILGA has a map that graphically shows where we’ve made progress and where things are really bad for LGBTI citizens: http://old.ilga.org/Statehomophobia/ILGA_map_2013_A4.pdf

We’ve been hearing about the horrible laws and institutionalised abuse in Uganda and Russia. Closer to home, many of our Pacific neighbours could also be targets for homophobic laws. or they are yet to decriminalise homosexuality. In Papua New Guinea, you can be sentenced for up to 14 years for being gay. Australia must play a role in ending this appalling discrimination, and no gay person should be sent there.

Sadly, the Federal Government has failed to put pressure on PNG and is fully prepared to send LGBTI asylum seekers to a country were it is illegal to be themselves. In response to my letter to Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison, I was told that “people transferred to a regional processing country are subject to the laws of the country. Homosexuality is a criminal offence in Papua New Guinea”.

However, plans are afoot to help our regional neighbours. During this year’s Mardi Gras, I convened a round table of all sides of politics, LGBTI organisations, the Human Rights Commission, US Ambassador to Australia John Berry, and visiting New Zealand MP Louisa Wall. It was clear that there is strong motivation to not only lead by example, as we are doing with expungement, but also to work together to help our LGBTI neighbours in need.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich’s apology motion, to be introduced in NSW Parliament when it returns in May:

Motion Accorder Priority: LGBTI APOLOGY

I move that this house:

1. Calls on this house to formally note that it is 30 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in NSW, removing legislation that criminalised people on moral grounds, which endorsed institutionalised homophobia, violence and abuse;

2. Notes the negative health and mental health impacts that homophobia and discrimination causes;

3. Remembers the police violence that occurred at the first Mardi Gras on Saturday 24 June 1978 and acknowledges the loss of jobs, careers, homes and families, and the lasting repercussions on their lives that those arrested and ‘outed’ experienced;

4. Acknowledges the courageous and successful campaigns by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, sex and gender diverse peoples and their activist allies who lobbied and protested for law reform and equality;

5. Notes the significant progress occurring in health, welfare and policing to address homophobia, and that campaigns for acceptance and inclusion, equal treatment under the law, and removal of discrimination must continue;

6. Acknowledges the work of past and current NSW Parliamentarians in progressing LGBTI law reform.

© Star Observer 2014 | For the latest in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* and Intersex (LGBTI) news in Australia, be sure to visit starobserver.com.au daily. You can also pick up the next Star Observer monthly magazine September 18 or Join us on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.