Calls for gay men convicted for homosexuality to be compensated

A woman is restrained by a policewoman during a demonstration for homosexual law reform in the mid-1980s.
PHIL REID/FAIRFAX NZ

A woman is restrained by a policewoman during a demonstration for homosexual law reform in the mid-1980s.

A veteran gay rights campaigner has called for gay men convicted of historical homosexual offences to be compensated because an apology is not enough. 

Compensation has been specifically ruled out as part of the move Justice Minister Amy Adams made on Thursday to expunge the convictions of those charged.

Instead, pending a law change, the government will simply wipe the conviction if the sex act would be deemed legal today.

"We can always find plenty of money to bail out banks when they collapse. But we can't seem to find money for the actual ...
ROSS GIBLIN/ FAIRFAX NZ

"We can always find plenty of money to bail out banks when they collapse. But we can't seem to find money for the actual social debts that we have for being evil to people."

Those convicted will need to apply to have them wiped as some of the acts, like sodomy with a minor or non-consensual sex are still considered crimes.

READ MORE: Government announces plans to wipe historical homosexual convictions

Veteran LGBT activist Bill Logan, who was a pivotal figure in the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in the 1980s, said he felt "gratified" by the move - but the government owed those convicted more than an apology.

"Well there isn't going to be compensation, because it's not the same as where people have been wrongfully convicted - ...
CAMERON BURNELL/REUTERS

"Well there isn't going to be compensation, because it's not the same as where people have been wrongfully convicted - these convictions were according to the law at the time 30 years ago."

"There's these huge tragedies, where people's lives were ruined. People couldn't get real jobs. People who could potentially have had substantial careers were unemployed for years and years," Logan said.

"If someone was going to have a life where they were could expect an ordinary average income, with ordinary average results like home ownership and so on - but instead they were sent to jail for three months then unemployed for two years and then finally got a job right at the bottom of the social pyramid, and felt that for the rest of their lives .... clearly just in monetary terms they are owed a great deal of money.

"Now if you add to that all the pain suffering that was caused - which can be shown in the fact that a great many of them suicided - then they are owed huge amounts of money in compensation.

Placard and banner carrying demonstrators in a march in support of homosexual law reform in May of 1985.
Dominion Post archives

Placard and banner carrying demonstrators in a march in support of homosexual law reform in May of 1985.

"We can always find plenty of money to bail out banks when they collapse. But we can't seem to find money for the actual social debts that we have for being evil to people."

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Prime Minister Bill English ruled out compensation when asked by media on Thursday, clarifying that compensation only applied to wrongful convictions.

"There isn't going to be compensation, because it's not the same as where people have been wrongfully convicted - these convictions were according to the law at the time 30 years ago," English said.

Compensation was not part of a similar move in the United Kingdom earlier this year, but Germany has set aside $44.5 million to compensate people convicted of similar crimes under their old laws.

But Logan said the stigma of criminality followed both those convicted and those who weren't.

"This really was a terrible time. Cops would entrap people. Neighbours in a block of flats would report people to the police. Even parents would call the police - say 'my Johnny has been seduced by someone' - get the someone arrested, then their son would often be arrested too.

"In a world where the law says 'you're evil' and it backs up a popular prejudice, then when parents are saying you're evil too, you tend to believe it. You believe you're evil yourself. 

"You become a bit of shadow."

Wiremu Demchick, who campaigned to have the convictions wiped, said compensation was "desirable" but his campaign had not called for it. He wasn't surprised the government hadn't offered it.

Officials estimate about 1000 people will be eligible to have their records wiped clean.

Rainbow Wellington welcomed the move, but also said it not go far enough, as it required the men to apply for their records to be right.

 "Most men do not want to go through the pain of revisiting their gay related convictions and would not want to even discuss it with us, let alone have their conviction known publicly," said chairperson Rawa Karetai.

"Hopefully, they feel comfortable to quash these convictions and put right to their personal history."

 - Stuff

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