On This Gay Day: In 1991 Queensland decriminalises homosexuality

Queensland Decriminalises Homosexuality in 1991 

On this day in 1991 Queensland became the seventh Australian state or territory to decriminalise homosexuality, leaving Tasmania as the last remaining region where same-sex male relationships remained illegal.

Decriminalisation of homosexuality in Australia was spread over several decades. Britain decriminalise homosexuality in 1967, but similar laws remained in Australia. South Australia was the first state to remove the laws in 1975, with the Australian Capital Territory following in 1976, Victoria in 1980, the Northern Territory in 1983, New South Wales in 1984 and Western Australia in 1989.

Tasmanians had to fight until 1997 to have the laws removed, and that only came after a successful High Court challenge.

In Queensland the biggest obstacle to decriminalisation was the staunchly conservative Nationals government lead by Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Their 32 year reign of power came crashing down with Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption and the resignation of the premier who had been in his position for almost 20 years.

The newly established Criminal Justice Commission recommended that laws around voluntary sexual behaviour, including homosexuality be removed.

Mike Ahern became the Premier when Bjelke-Petersen resigned, but he was overthrown by Russell Cooper just a few months before the election was called.

Cooper went to the election with a policy to retain the discrimination against gay people. During the campaign he claimed dropping the laws would lead to a; “flood of gays crossing the border from the Southern states.” The Labor party satirised him in election ads as a reactionary and a clone of the disgraced former premier.

Labor won the election and Wayne Goss became the state’s 34th Premier in 1989. They order a review of the laws and the successfully changed the laws to decriminalise homosexuality and equalise the age of consent to sixteen years. The age of consent for anal sex was set at 18 years.

The Nationals opposed the laws being changed but were unable to stop them from being passed. In 1996 when they returned to power they reworded the laws changing ‘anal sex’ to ‘sodomy’ and doubling the penalties for those caught engaging in the practice underage.

In 2008 when Labor in government again they raised the penalty for attempting to engage in sodomy with a person under the age of 18, to the same penalty as those who were convicted as having undertaken the act. It would not be until 2016 that the laws would be brought into line with other states.

In 2017 Queensland, like many other states, brought in a program that allowed those who had been convicted under the unjust laws to have their records expunged. Queensland has seen more applications to the scheme that any other state in Australia.

Also on this day in history

Author Patricia Highsmith was born on this day in 1921. The author wrote many books, including the popular series of novels featuring the serial killer Tom Ripley.

In recent years many works from the notoriously cynical and isolated writer have been translated into successful films such as Strangers On A Train, The Talented Mr Ripley and The Price of Salt which hit the silver screen as Carol in 2015.

In 2017 actor Jenny Davis chatted to OUTinPerth about Highsmith’s life and work when she portrayed her in the theatrical production Switzerland, which was staged by the Black Swan State Theatre Company.

Highsmith was bisexual and documented her many relationships in her diaries. She was also known to have a fascination with snails and often carried several in her pockets.

The author passed away in 1995, she left her $3million estate to the Yaddo artist colony in New York. The facility has seen many authors, filmmakers and creative people make acclaimed work while undertaking residencies at the large estate. Highsmith spent two weeks at the facility in 1948 writing the first draft of her novel Strangers on a Train. 

OIP Staff


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