20 years on, council apologises for arrests of gay activists

PinkNews Staff Writer June 24, 2008
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In August 1988, a newly formed group pressing for law reform in Tasmania set up a stall at a popular outdoor market in Hobart.

The group wanted to gather petition signatures and distribute information about decriminalising homosexuality.

It seemed a modest gesture, but it eventually led to arguably the largest act of gay civil disobedience in Australian history.

After one complaint about the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group’s stall in Salamanca Market, Hobart City Council banned it.

The city authorities ordered anyone staffing or supporting the stall, or found in possession of a gay law reform petition or a poster to be arrested.

Over the next seven Saturday mornings, 130 people took up that challenge.

There were large protests across Australia and by December the council had relented.

Tasmania eventually decriminalised homosexuality in 1997 and has since adopted Australia’s most progressive anti-discrimination and relationship laws.

Now Hobart City Council has decided to apologise and endorsed a commemorative plaque and public art work to which it will contribute $15,000 (£7,290), a photographic exhibition to which it will contribute $3000, and a civic reception for those involved with the arrests at which the apology will be delivered.

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, as the law reform group is now known, said the apology will help reconcile those who were involved in the arrests and send out a positive message about how much Tasmania has changed.

“The arrests caused deep pain on both sides, and I expect a few tears to be shed when the apology is finally given,” said spokesperson Rodney Croome.

“The apology will send out a positive message about Tasmania’s maturity into a more inclusive society.

“It will also remind us that human rights, and human rights defenders, deserve respect, no matter how contentious the issue at stake.”

To see photos of the protest click here.

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