Australia has protected its LGBTI community by legally recognizing their rights for same-sex relationships, adoption, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, modifying official records such as birth certificates and serving in the military. Tasmania, its southern most State, however was known as the ‘bigot island’ until the late 90s among the international media for its intolerance and extreme hostility towards the homosexuality community. Tasmania was also infamous for implementing some of the harshest punishments that were carried out until very recently against members of the LGBTI community. Victims convicted were sometimes medically diagnosed with ‘psychological sexual distortion’ rendering their sexual choices a culpable offence. The old law was thus trecherous and brought with it shame and wrongly ostracized its victims from their professional and personal lives. The bill to decriminalize homosexual relationships was rejected six times in the 90s and those supporting the rights of the LGBTI community were punished. With civil disobedience campaigns and international pressure from the UN’s Human Rights Committee condemning such laws, the bill to decriminalize homosexuality was passed in 1997. Given the strong opposition that it had faced for decades, the success of the bill was considered as a significant achievement, particularly by those who had endured the atrocities for too long merely because of their sexual orientation.
Taking this progressive initiative further, it became the last Australian jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriages and supported LGBTI parenting rights. Tasmania adopted steps to protect children belonging to the LGBTI by introducing policies at school to provide a safe learning environment and even developed an initiative called Combatting Bullying initiative to tackle such serious issues. Last month, the Tasmanian Parliament made history by electing its first and openly lesbian MP for the Australian Labour Party.
As the rainbow glows brighter over Australia, Tasmania deserves a huge applause, this time for its latest initiative in passing a bill to clear criminal records of people convicted under the former laws criminalizing homosexuality. The Tasmanian Parliament also rendered an apology earlier this week to its LGBTI community for the unfair laws and its unfair impact. Even though the apology does not change the history and wrong inflicted on the community, it is definitely the right step in acknowledging the trauma inflicted and for assuring the LGBTI community that they are valued.