Gay rights advocates in the Australian island state of Tasmania have written to Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary asking her to point out the benefits to her childhood home that have come from its greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people.
The letter is a direct response to recent media reports of anti-gay harassment and the absence of anti-discrimination laws in the Danish-administered Faeroe Islands, and coincides with the Princess’s latest Tasmanian visit.
Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said that Tasmania has an important lesson to teach the Faeroes and other island communities about the benefits of accepting diversity, and Princess Mary is in a perfect position to pass the message on.
“In the 1990s Tasmania had a global reputation as ‘bigot’s island’ because it refused to repeal laws criminalising homosexuality, despite condemnation from Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Committee, and the rest of Australia”, Mr Croome said.
“This international ignominy sent out the message that change, innovation and difference were not welcome and it’s no coincidence our economy and population went into decline.”
“A decade on Tasmania has turned the corner with some of the most progressive anti-discrimination and relationship laws in the world, and as a result Tasmanian society is now more united, confident and prosperous.”
Earlier this month reports emerged from the Faeroe Islands of anti-gay discrimination and violence, highlighting the fact that the Faeroes are the only Nordic society without laws preventing discrimination and guaranteeing equal rights for same-sex couples.
Mr Croome said it would be inappropriate for Princess Mary, as the future Queen of a constitutional monarchy, to speak publicly about political matters, but added that she has every right to talk about how Tasmania has changed for the better.
Tasmania was the last Australian state to retain criminal penalties for homosexual activity. The maximum punishment was 21 years in gaol.
The laws were condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee and the Australian Federal Government in 1994 and actively campaigned against by Amnesty International. This led to Tasmania being labelled “Bigot’s Island” in the British press. The then Tasmanian Government responded by declaring the island a “Bible-based society”.
The laws were finally repealed in 1997 but not before investment, employment and population began to decline. Prominent Australian economists such as Saul Eslake have drawn a direct connection between Tasmania’s poor reputation for embracing change and difference and its poor economic performance.
In 1999 Tasmania enacted Australia’s most progressive anti-discrimination laws, followed in 2003 by relationship laws that, for the first time in Australia, allowed same-sex couple to officially register their unions. These changes were accompanied by a shift in community attitudes towards greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people.
Since then the Tasmanian economy and population have made rapid gains, with many more people staying in, moving to and/or investing in, Tasmania. Some are gay but most are heterosexuals drawn by Tasmania’s greater tolerance of innovation and diversity.
“I’m sure no-one would resent Princess Mary gently and graciously pointing out lessons from her homeland that may benefit some of her future subjects,” Mr Croome said.