Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A brief look at the reform of anti gay laws in Tasmania

While some gays and lesbians are fighting for the right to marry in Australia, it was not so long ago that in our beautiful state of Tasmania, it was still illegal to practice homosexuality, let alone perfect it.

In 1988 the Tasmania Gay Law Reform Group was formed to lobby for the abolition of laws that made homosexual acts illegal and punishable by 21 years gaol. Each Saturday a stall was set up at the artsy Salamanca Market in the capital of Hobart to inform the public of the need for law reform and to gather signatures on petitions.

City of Horbart wanted none of this nonsense and quickly banned the stall. This did not stop the group trying and police were called in. Charges of trespass were laid. Arrests were made and people held in cells for excessive periods. There was general harassment of any person who  was known to be involved and even those who weren't. People were banned for life from Salamanca Market.

But protests grew each market day until there were hundreds on the outskirts of the market each week. Salamanca Place of Oppression tee shirts became fashionable items to wear on the streets of Hobart. Even the Rupert Murdoch owned conservative Hobart Mercury came out in support of the protesters.

By the end of 1988 the council could see the writing on the wall and the rest of Australia was taking a very dim view of what was happening in Hobart. In early December the council dropped its opposition to the stall and shortly after it was conveniently found that the charges of trespass were of dubious legality and dropped.

In 2008, twenty years later, the City of Hobart made an official apology for its behaviour.

The right to protest and lobby may have been won, but that did not change any laws.

At attempt at law reform in the early nineties was voted down by the State Parliament and for the first time, a human rights matter in Australia was taken to the United Nations Human Rights Committee which in 1994 ruled against the laws. Rule they may well do, but still nothing changed.

More protests, more agitation. Same sex couples started to present themselves to police stations with details and photos (the mind boggles) of their homosexuality and demanding to be arrested. The police ignored them. 

What I really believe caused change was that Australia was becoming embarrassed by its little backwards and heavily subsidised state. Amnesty International became involved, with a letter writing campaign. The rest of Australia started to boycott Tasmanian produce. I recall gay males in Victoria became quite passionate and serious in their boycott of anything Tasmanian, including King Island which is under the control of Tasmania. To go without King Island Double Cream was quite a sacrifice. Many supportive dining establishments started to come on board by not buying Tasmania produce.

In 1994 the Federal Government  acted by entrenching the right to sexual privacy for all Australians. The following year advocates launched a High Court action and support for law reform just kept growing. Finally in 1997 under the rule of Liberal (conservative) government Premier Rundle, a bill was passed for reform of the laws, but by only one vote in the Upper House and some last minute anti gay amendments were defeated.

Tasmania now has the most progressive gay and lesbian laws and policies of any Australian state and we embrace their acceptance and their ultra clean and green produce.

While as usual, many many people worked tirelessly for the cause, of note was Dr Bob Brown in the early days, who is gay himself and went on to become national leader of The Greens, activists Rodney Croome AM and his then partner Nick Toonen OAM and present national leader of The Greens, Christine Milne, who herself went on to have a gay son.

Of course things were not always so good in Victoria for gays and lesbians either, especially under the Kennett Government in the 1990s. http://highriser.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/not-so-tasty.html


  1. It is encouraging to see Tassie changing from having one of the most draconian laws in the country to one of the most progressive. I wasn't aware of the actions that motivated the changes though so thanks for the informative post.

  2. Ad Rad, I thought it was a good and concise history to have, and hopefully it is accurate. That the laws lasted so long was all about politics. But also, there was a lot of homophobia in Tassie, although I think it is worse in FNQ.

  3. Its good to know that people power still stands for something hey Andrew. Maybe we should use our voices alltogether more often.

    1. Grace, groups like Get Up are quite successful, and somewhat surprisingly to me, so are online petitions.