Dr Duncan’s death sparked reform in SA but fight for justice continues

Feast, Adelaide’s LGBTIQ+ Queer Arts and Cultural Festival in collaboration with the Adelaide University Pride Club, Student Representative Council and festival partner ECH, will be hosting a memorial service to remember the tragic death of Adelaide University law lecturer, Dr Duncan, which was the catalyst for gay law reform in South Australia in 1975.

May 10th 1972, 49 years ago, marked the tragic murder of the South Australian Law Lecturer, Dr Duncan. His only crime was that he was a gay man, and for that he paid the ultimate price. On that day he was thrown into the River Torrens and drowned. It is widely believed that his assailants were a group of off-duty police officers. No one has ever been convicted of his murder.

Three years on in 1975, South Australia became the first state in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality. The public outrage that his murder sparked is widely acknowledged as being the catalyst for this legal reform.

Local historian Tim Reeves who is also an author and the acknowledged authority on the life and death of Dr Duncan will be presenting a talk, Dr Duncan – His Death and Its Impacts on the anniversary of Duncan’s death in collaboration with Feast as part of the 2021 History Festival.

“Dr Duncan’s death remains one of South Australia’s most notorious unsolved murders,’ said Mr Reeves, ‘but it was also the catalyst for the first attempt in the nation to decriminalise homosexuality.”

“South Australia led not just Australia but also the English-speaking world when it finally embraced full gay law reform in 1975,” said Mr Reeves.

From being nation leaders in gay law reform, South Australia has since lagged. Last year a bill to remove the ‘gay panic’ defence, which is the defence used by a criminal court to downgrade a charge of murder to one of manslaughter, including where a defendant could prove they were provoked to violence by a homosexual advance was only just abolished. Even though this was welcome news, comparatively some other states were abolishing the same law in the early 2000’s, which demonstrates a lack of pro-active social justice reform in South Australia.

Recently Shadow Human Services Minister, Nat Cook has begun drafting legislation to outlaw LGBTIQ+ conversion therapy, a practice where a person or group seek to change or supress another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through surgery or counselling. Currently there is support from all parties to ban the practice, however it’s how to make it enforceable by law that remains the question.

As social justice continues to slowly push forward in South Australia it’s unfortunate events like the drowning of Dr Duncan are a constant reminder that there is still so much work to do for true equal rights for our LGBTIQ+ communities.

For our Adelaide readers, the event will be held tonight at The Treasury 1860 from 6pm.

Source: Media release


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