On This Gay Day: In 1986 New Zealand decriminalises homosexuality

In 1986 New Zealand decriminalised homosexuality

On this day in 1986 New Zealand passed the Homosexual Law Reform Act that decriminalized homosexuality removing British colonial laws.

The country had adopted English laws in in 1840 which made homosexual acts punishable by death. In 1893 the laws were broadened so that even consensual sexual activity between men could be considered as sexual assault. Penalties included life imprisonment, flogging and hard labour.

In 1961 the penalties were reduced to reflect changing public opinions to homosexuality, and people began campaigning for complete decriminalisation, a change that would take decades to achieve.

The move to change the laws was driven by the argument that combatting the AIDS epidemic would be more effective if people did not need to hide their sexuality. The bill was introduced by MP Fran Wilde and after the bill was introduced it was debated for 16 months and saw violent demonstrations outside of the country’s parliament.

Once it was passed the age of consent was reduced to 16.

New Zealand continued to introduce reform in the area of LGBTI rights, in 1993 discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was outlawed, and in 2004 civil partnerships were recognised. In 2013 marriage equality was realised in New Zealand.

Here in Australia, South Australia was the first state or territory to decriminalise same-sex activity between men in 1976, with the fight continuing until 1997, when Tasmania joined the rest of the nation in scrapping the archaic laws. In WA, amendments were passed in December 1989 with a caveat that the age of consent for same-sex activity must be raised, which has since been returned to align with the rest of the community.

In 1989 artist Keith Haring shares that he is living with HIV

On this day in 1989 artist Keith Haring shared that he was living with HIV. Prices for his artworks immediately soared as collectors anticipated his impending death, at the time there were few successful treatments and the those contracting the virus faced a low life expectancy.

Haring arrived in New York in the late 1970’s where he studied at the School of Visual Arts during the day and worked as a busboy at nightclub Danceteria in the evenings. He first came to attention creating works with chalk on unused blackboard on New York’s subways. Soon his work moved from the streets into art galleries with his graffiti line drawing style that was filled with symbols and messages.

Soon Haring was travelling the world taking on commissions to create new works, he visited Australia in 1984 painting murals in Melbourne and Sydney and being commissioned to create a work for the National Gallery of Australia.  He also created politically charged works including his ‘silence = death’ series which highlighted the US government’s lack of action on addressing the AIDS crisis.

As an up-and-coming artist in New York Haring was close friends with Jean-Michael Basquiat, Madonna, Futura 200 and Kenny Scharf. Later he would have associations with Andy Warhol, Grace Jones and Yoko Ono. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1988.

Haring passed away on 16th February 1990 aged 31. He is memorialised on a panel of the AIDS quilt. Madonna donated all the proceeds of the first New York date of her Blonde Ambition tour to HIV charities in honour of Haring. In 2019 he was one of the first 50 Americans added to the honour roll at the Stonewall Memorial.

OIP Staff


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