NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner (C) delivered an apology for historic gay sex law convictions.The Northern Territory is a far better place for a lesbian in 2018 than it was in the 1990s when she arrived, says Catilin Perry.
Speaking at NT Parliament after Chief Minister Michael Gunner delivered a formal apology to people convicted under historic gay sex laws, Ms Perry recalled Darwin being a place of contradictions.
“I came out to a really safe, supportive community only to discover what was around that community wasn’t safe and wasn’t supportive in terms of being a lesbian person,” she told AAP.
“There’s been pockets of support, there always has been. But the Territory has been this odd place where there’s been quite progressive things allowed to happen in the framework of quite regressvie laws.”
Ms Perry and Matthew Van Roden said there was huge symbolic and practical importance to Mr Gunner’s speech.
“It was interesting to reflect on how recent the history is that we’re dealing with today,” Mr Van Roden said.
Until the 1980s, a range of offences existed for consensual homosexual acts that resulted in convictions that restricted employment, volunteering and travel opportunities.
Those convictions will now be expunged, said Mr Gunner, in line with recent moves in the rest of the country.
He said members of the gay community were forced to live in fear and secrecy, with careers ruined and lives lost.
“Today is about making right,” Mr Gunner said.
“It is about making right on hurtful and discriminatory laws tolerated, supported or actively perpetuated by Northern Territory governments … we were wrong.”
State-sanctioned discrimination spreads through government and societies like a cancer, he added.
But he insisted today the NT was a “beautiful, diverse and welcoming place”.
Mr Gunner became tearful when mentioning that his sister Lucy would marry her partner Jill this year.
A group of people in the public gallery cheered loudly.
Opposition leader Gary Higgins also mentioned that he has a gay son and a gay sibling during his speech in support of the apology.
The NT voted 61 per cent in favour of same sex marriage last year.
Anna Brown, director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Right Law Centre, said the apology will help to heal past wounds.
“There was a time when governments around turned thousands of innocent men and women into criminals all because of who they love. It was profoundly cruel and wrong,” she said.