International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) was created to unify queer communities against discrimination. Given that, in 2014, the Australian Human Rights Commission found “almost half of all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people hide their sexual orientation or gender identity in public for fear of violence or discrimination”, we know that a day like this is needed. And this year the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights called for governments internationally to do more to protect LGBTQIA+ rights, adding to the ever-growing queer rights movement. In recognition of IDAHOBIT, we’ve compiled ten historical facts about the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community in Australia—because knowing where we came from is necessary to figure out where we’re going.
1: Punishable by death
In 1949, Victoria down-graded anal sex from a crime punishable by death to a crime punishable by 20 years imprisonment. That’s less than 100 years ago. And in 1972, a gay academic was thrown into the Torrens River by SA Police, killing him. Across Adelaide—and certainly other cities—LGBTQIA+ people were, and are still, attacked and killed.
2: Being queer was a crime
In 1978, at the first Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, 53 people were arrested. Being a gay man was still illegal, and many people predicted and prepared for their arrest by organising emergency bail-out funds.
In 1997, Tasmania formally decriminalised homosexuality. In 1997. That was 21 years ago. Twenty years later the Tasmanian government made a formal apology for the suffering this caused.
Other states decriminalised homosexuality in 1975 (SA), 1976 (male acts of homosexuality in ACT), 1980 (VIC), 1983 (NT), and 1990 (WA, and “sodomy” in QLD). Discrepancies between ages of consent still existed until 2016 when Queensland equalised the age of consent laws for anal sex to 16.
The expungement of these convictions in WA is still in progress.
3: Military service bans … sound familiar?
In 1992, the Australian government removed the ban on gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women from serving in the military. This ban dated back to the Boer War, but from 1974 onwards it was consistently enforced. Investigations of suspected queer personnel included surveillance (Orwellian-esque, we imagine), intimidation tactics and interviews (read: interrogations), at the end of which gays, lesbians and bisexuals had two choices: request their own honourable discharge, or accept dishonourable dismissal.
4: Closing a loophole
In 2004 the Howard government amended the Marriage Act to explicitly exclude same-gender couples. It was redefined as the “union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”
5: Howard’s not done with you yet
The Howard Liberal government also announced plans to ban same-gender adoption nation-wide.
Western Australia was the first to allow same-gender couples to adopt children in 2002, but it was only made legal Australia-wide last March, when the Northern Territory finally caught up.
6: No marriage for you either!
In Western Australia (pending a project by the Law Reform Commission of WA), transgender people still have to apply to a board of strangers to change their sex on their birth certificate, and are forced to divorce if they’re married when this happens.
7: Self-identification? Who’s she?
Speaking of that board of strangers (formally known as the Gender Reassignment Board), they have a shopping list of things you need to be officially recognised as your gender! This includes: a letter from a medical practitioner saying that you had undergone a “reassignment procedure” with details of the procedure, a date and time, and whether it was surgical (they also ask for details of hormone therapy); a letter from a psych confirming that you’ve had counselling about gender reassignment; and a letter from another medical professional confirming everything.
8: I don’t want to suck your blood
Men who have had sex with men in the past 12 months are still barred from donating blood, even if it was safe sex. This rule was put in place due to “research and international policy decisions”, according to the Australian Red Cross, who also go on to say that “unfortunately the TGA, our regulator, did not approve a reduction in the deferral period to six months”. Despite screenings for HIV and AIDS, and our understanding of the virus and campaigns like U=U, having progressed.
Red Cross Australia asserts that this is not discriminatory based on sexuality but rather an “assessment of risk”, but men who have sex with men are not the only ones who can contract the disease. HIV doesn’t care about your sexuality.
9: The gay panic defence
The gay panic defence—a legal argument used by defence lawyers to downgrade prosecution charges in cases where a queer person is killed—was upheld by the High Court of Australia in 1997.
It was used successfully in a trial in Queensland in 2010. Jason Pearce and Richard Meerdink were convicted of manslaughter (instead of murder), receiving only nine and 10 years respectively, after they bashed Wayne Ruk to death. Pearce was released on parole after four years in prison, after beating someone to death, because of alleged homosexual advances.
South Australia is yet to overturn the gay panic defence.
10: Only one year ago
In 2017 the federal government decided to have a non-compulsory postal survey to figure out if the Australian public thinks that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry (even though numerous polls over numerous years indicated that the majority of the population were in favour of it). This was an emotional shit-storm for the queer community in a hundred different ways and we’re still salty and pissed about it. Now don’t get us wrong, marriage equality was a win, no doubt about it, but there’s still so much more to do.
We realise that none of this makes for light, enjoyable reading, but the spirit of IDAHOBIT is to call out discrimination and queerphobia where is exists, and where it has existed. We have grown out of our past, but still have plenty ahead of us, and IDAHOBIT is a reminder to reflect on this.