After decades of shame, new hope as law to pardon gay men's convictions moves ahead

Gay rights campaigner Bill Logan felt compensation was due to men convicted of homosexual offences. "We can always find ...
ROSS GIBLIN/ FAIRFAX NZ

Gay rights campaigner Bill Logan felt compensation was due to men convicted of homosexual offences. "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."

Secret lives, ruined careers, entrapment, and shameful convictions were common for men whose sexuality put them on the wrong side of the law.

Now those found guilty of breaking anti-gay laws abolished in 1986 could soon have their criminal records wiped. For some, that day can't arrive soon enough.

"This conviction still leads, after 53 years, to self-hatred, worthlessness, unjustified guilt and shame," one man wrote in a submission to Parliament.

An anti-gay campaigner marches ahead of people supporting the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in Willis St, Wellington, in 1985.
ROSS GIBLIN

An anti-gay campaigner marches ahead of people supporting the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in Willis St, Wellington, in 1985.

The description of a wrecked life was presented after Wiremu Demchick​ and 2111 others petitioned MPs last year to pardon men convicted under anti-gay laws.

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"I love my country, but live in fear – of being 'found out', of further humiliation, panic attacks when I see a uniformed police officer, and a general feeling of being unworthy to be myself."

Wiremu Demchick called on the Government to apologise, and reverse convictions of those convicted for laws overturned in ...
BEVAN READ/FAIRFAX NZ

Wiremu Demchick called on the Government to apologise, and reverse convictions of those convicted for laws overturned in the 1986 reforms.

The unnamed man, convicted for a relationship "with another consenting adult", was reportedly forced to resign from his post as an army officer.

Now new hope looms for men convicted of offences related to indecency, sodomy, and an archaically named law against "keeping places of resort for homosexual acts".

On Thursday, Justice Minister Amy Adams said the Government would present a bill to Parliament before the September general election to let men "remove the stigma and prejudice" stemming from convictions for homosexual offences.

John Jolliff, left, and Des Smith were the first gay couple in New Zealand to get a civil union. Jolliff said he did not ...
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

John Jolliff, left, and Des Smith were the first gay couple in New Zealand to get a civil union. Jolliff said he did not think compensation was practical.

People convicted for consensual sex acts between men would be able to apply to have convictions expunged.

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If approved, Government records would change, and convictions disappear in criminal history checks. No formal court hearings would be involved.

Demchick​, who started the petition, said he was generally pleased with Adams' announcement.

Prime Minister Bill English ruled out compensation, saying such payments were for people wrongly convicted. "These ...
CHRIS HARROWELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Prime Minister Bill English ruled out compensation, saying such payments were for people wrongly convicted. "These convictions were according to the law at the time."

Overall, it meant Thursday was "a day of celebration". But he would like "a more systematic" or one-off approach to expunging criminal records, instead of the case-by-case approach Adams hinted at.

Veteran gay rights activist Bill Logan, 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.

"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.

"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."

Prime Minister Bill English ruled out compensation on Thursday, clarifying that such payments applied only 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."

Wellingtonian John Jolliff who, with partner Des Smith, became the first gay couple to have a civil union, did not believe financial compensation was practical.

"I would think that's possibly taking it a little bit too far. How would you measure it, anyway?"

He also recalled a time of fear and double lives before Dame Fran Wilde's Homosexual Law Reform Bill made it through Parliament in 1986.

"I was in the public service and there was one guy who came out ... and he never got any promotion."

When gay sex was illegal, entrapment was widely feared, and some "police occasionally seemed to have nothing better to do other than hover", waiting to catch gay men, he said.

 - Stuff

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