• Noel, Peter, Terry and Tom were four men who suffered from historic anti-homosexuality laws in Victoria. (Office of Daniel Andrews)Source: Office of Daniel Andrews
For years, gay and bisexual men have had to live with records of historic convictions for homosexuality. On Tuesday, Victoria became the first state to formally apologise.
Drew Sheldrick

24 May 2016 - 10:52 AM  UPDATED 25 May 2016 - 10:32 AM

The Victorian government has made a formal state apology to people convicted under historic laws against homosexual acts. Victorian premier Daniel Andrews addressed state Parliament at 2pm Tuesday, with some of the men affected by the laws present to hear him say sorry.

Victoria decriminalised homosexuality in 1980, before which a conviction could lead to penalties of up to 15 years in prison. A Victorian scheme to expunge historical convictions for homosexual activity came into effect in September last year.

“These laws cast a long, dark shadow of prejudice that still stands today, and our apology is one small but meaningful way to right that historic wrong," Premier Andrews said.

Sexual and public morality offences such as buggery, gross indecency with a male and offensive behaviour were once used to criminalise consensual homosexuality throughout Australia. South Australia became the first state to decriminalise homosexuality in 1972, but Tasmania took until 1997 to fully repeal its sodomy laws.

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“For years, many gay and bisexual men have had to live with a conviction for something that should never have been a crime," Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Sean Mulcahy said.

“Now we live in a state that embraces the diverse sexual orientations and gender identities that make up our community. This is another step in the long journey towards equality for LGBTI Victorians.”

One of the men who was convicted of the crime of "gross indecency" in Victoria was Terry Kennedy.

"The police locked me up in Richmond and got two confessions out of me. I was 18," Kennedy explained.

"The years went by, and I got over it, but it always came back to haunt me. When I wanted to go overseas, when I applied for a liquor licence, when I wanted to start my own business, there was that dreaded question: 'Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence?'"

 "The laws were unjust and caused much pain and suffering to all gay men who incurred a criminal record as a result of sexual conduct that today is no longer illegal."

On the apology, Kennedy said it showed the state government finally acknowledged to the gay community that the past laws relating to homosexual behaviour were "wrong and oppressive".

"The laws were unjust and caused much pain and suffering to all gay men who incurred a criminal record as a result of sexual conduct that today is no longer illegal," he said.

"Until recent expungement, my criminal record of more than 50 years was always there – always hanging over my head. I hope the apology will encourage others to take the steps to have their criminal records expunged."

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Victorian Premier Andrews has been a strong proponent of LGBTI rights, establishing Australia's first Minister for Equality and Victoria's first Gender and Sexuality Commissioner. Last month he announced a $15 million 'Pride Centre' as part of the 2016/2017 Victorian Budget, as well as $1.04 million to continue the Safe Schools Coalition anti-bullying program in Victorian schools, despite federal government attempts to water it down.

Last year the Victorian government also amended the state's adoption laws to allow same-sex couples the right to adopt children.

*Images supplied by the office of Daniel Andrews.