HUMAN rights activist, political lobbyist, community lawyer — Jamie Gardiner is a legend in the past and present of Australia’s gay and lesbian rights movement. He’s been involved in almost every major legal reform around LGBTI Victorians over the past 40 years, and had a significant impact on the relationship between LGBTI people and human rights in Australia.

When Gardiner realised he was gay around the age of 20, he was already politically engaged and passionate about human rights. Rather than his politics being driven by the coming out process, he already had the intellectual tools to make sense of the injustice gay people faced in Australia.

“I had the good fortune that I was already in the right place to cope with being gay,” Gardiner said.

“Once I realised, once I clicked, it was no issue.”

But at that time, in Melbourne, there was not really a framework in place for him to work towards social change — the decriminalisation of homosexual sex being the obvious big-ticket item on the agenda.

Not long after coming out, in 1971 Gardiner left Australia for a three-year stint at the University of London. The UK had passed a bill in 1967 to decriminalise homosexual acts, but it had been an imperfect reform, which Gardiner argued in some ways had done more harm than good by decriminalising, specifically, homosexual acts done “in private”. Courts interpreted the law to effectively mean only acts taking place between two people, in a private home, when no-one else was in the building. In that time of change for gay people in the UK, Gardiner became involved in gay rights through student unions, helping establish the first “gay societies” at the University of London.

When Gardiner returned to Melbourne in 1974, he hit the ground running, helping to spearhead the campaign to decriminalise consensual homosexual sex in Victoria through the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition. With a combination of both effective political lobbying and community mobilisation, the campaign succeeded in 1980 — his experiences in London helped ensure this was a better reform.

From there, Gardiner’s fingerprints can be found on any number of major reforms in the state. Anti-discrimination law was next on the agenda after decriminalisation, but with the outbreak of HIV and AIDS, he also became involved in the community response, helping establish the Victorian AIDS Council. Eventually, same-sex relationships also came into focus as a target for reform.

Civil liberties organisation Liberty Victoria, Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Commission, the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and many more legal and community institutions bear Gardiner’s fingerprints. Historically, and in one of his proudest achievements, Gardiner helped establish the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

“So I guess I’m most proud that I have played a useful role in advancing human rights in general in this state, and to some extent in this country, and particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights,” he said.

“That role has occupied me now one and off for 40 years.

“I’m proud of being able to contribute to an important social change that benefits so many people, and myself and my partner included.”

Do you know of an unsung community hero who deserves recognition? Email [email protected] with your tip

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**This article was first published in the August edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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