Speaker, there is no more simple an acknowledgement than this:
There was a time in our history when we turned thousands of ordinary young men into criminals. And it was profoundly and unimaginably wrong. That such a thing could have occurred – once, perhaps a century ago – would not surprise most Victorians… well, I hold here an article that reports the random arrest of 15 men.
“Police Blitz Catches Homosexuals”, the headline reads. And said a police officer: “… we just seem to find homosexuals loitering wherever we go.” This was published in Melbourne’s biggest-selling weekly newspaper – in December 1976. A decade earlier, in 1967, a local paper said that a dozen men would soon face court for – quote – “morals offences”, and urged the public to report homosexuals to the police with a minimum of delay.
A generation earlier, in 1937, Judge MacIndoe said John, a man in his 20s, was “not quite sane”, and gaoled him for three months on a charge of gross indecency. In 1936, Jack, a working man from Sale, faced a Melbourne court on the same charge – and he was gaoled for ten years.
This, Speaker, is the society we built.
And it would be easy to blame the courts, or the media, or the police, or the public. It is easy for us to condemn their bigotry. But the law required them to be bigoted. And those laws were struck here, where I stand. One of those laws even earned the label abominable.
And in 1961 alone, 40 Victorian men were charged with it.
In the same year, a minor offence was created that shook just as many lives. The penalty was $600 in today’s terms, or one month’s imprisonment. The charge? ‘Loitering for homosexual purposes.’ This was the offence used to justify that random police blitz in ‘76.
A witness said: “Young policemen were sent … to … entrap suspected homosexuals.” “[Officers] dressed in swimwear … engaging other men in conversation.” “When the policeman was satisfied the person was homosexual, an arrest was made.”
When we began this process, Speaker, I expected to be offering an apology to people persecuted for homosexual acts. But it has become clear to me that the State also persecuted against homosexual thought. Loitering for homosexual purposes is a thought crime …
And in one summer in 1976, in one location alone, one hundred men were targeted under this violation of thought; something for which there was no possible defence… all in our lifetimes, Speaker.
In our name. Young people. Old people. Thousands and thousands of people.