NSW Apologises for Laws Criminalising Homosexuality

After nearly 40 years, NSW is set to apologise for its past laws criminalising homosexuality. In an interview with SBS, Robert French, a key activist from the 1980s, recalls a protest where he and Lex Watson, another activist, demanded police arrest them for being gay to highlight the injustice.
FUSE  |  Australian News
The 1979 Sydney Mardi Gras march was held a year after the first. The pink triangle was the symbol Nazi concentration camps forced homosexual prisoners to wear, and was later reclaimed as a symbol of protest against homophobia. Source: Supplied / Robert French

People like Robert French, queer elders and community activists over many years contributed to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW in 1984. It was a painful, long road for many people in the community.

Premier Chris Minns will deliver the apology, acknowledging the harm caused by historical laws. While sex between women was never illegal, many women in the LGBTIQ+ community supported the fight for equal rights. Men faced severe consequences under the 1900 Crimes Act, which criminalised consensual sex between men. French notes the long-lasting damage, including ruined reputations, job losses, and cruel treatments like aversion therapy.

French, who spoke to SBS Australia, expressed mixed feelings, welcoming the apology but highlighting the delay in its issuance. He emphasised the psychological and physical damage caused by so-called conversion therapies, condemned by the United Nations as deeply harmful. "Reputations were destroyed, jobs were lost, and men were subjected to judicial torture," French said, reflecting on the severe impact of the past laws.

'Men were 'tortured' for being themselves.'

Despite the decriminalisation, the struggle for equality continues. Equality Australia and MP Alex Greenwich are pushing for further reforms, including banning conversion practices and eliminating discrimination by religious organisations.

The apology marks a significant symbolic step but advocates stress the need for ongoing action to address the lingering effects of past discrimination and to ensure genuine equality in NSW.

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