Sorry, Sorry, Sorry

Today in the Victorian Parliament (Victoria is the Australian state, the capital of which is Melbourne) an historic apology was offered to LGBTI people who had been criminalised and convicted up until 1980. 

“It is the first responsibility of a government to keep people safe. But the Government didn’t keep LGBTI people safe. The Government invalidated their humanity and cast them into a nightmare.And those who live today are the survivors of nothing less than a campaign of destruction, led by the might of the State.”
— Victorian Premier Daniel Andrew, 24 May 2016

This apology seeks -- and promises -- to be far more than a simple gesture. In it, there is an acknowledgement of the complicity of government in sustaining a system of homophobia, a system of homophobia that continues to today. The apology (full apology text can be read here) acknowledges that pain, exclusion, homophobia and discrimination continue. What is important is that the structure of government is stating that it is on the side of justice, rather than injustice. The apology includes the words: 

For the time being, we can’t promise things will be easy. Tomorrow, a young bloke will get hurt. Tomorrow, a parent will turn their back on their child. Tomorrow, a loving couple and their beautiful baby will be met with a stare of contempt. Tomorrow, a trans woman will be turned away from a job interview. And tomorrow, a gay teenager will think about ending his own life. That’s the truth. There is so much more we need to do to make things right. Until then, we can’t promise things will be easy. We can’t guarantee that everyone in your life will respect the way you want to live it. And we can’t expect you to make what must be a terrifying plunge until you know the time is right. But just know that whenever that time comes, you have a Government that’s on your side. You have a Government that is trying to make the state a safer place – in the classroom, in the workplace. You have a Government that is trying to eradicate a culture of bullying and harassment so that the next generation of children are never old enough to experience it. You have a Government that sees these indisputable statistics – of LGBTI self-harm, of suicide – and commits to their complete upheaval. You have a Government that believes you’re free to be who you are, and to marry the person you love. And you have a Government that knows just one life saved is worth all the effort.

Homosexuality was decriminalised across England and Wales in 1967, in Scotland in 1980, Northern Ireland in 1982 and decriminalised in the rest of Ireland in 1993. Some of these were done as an act of parliament, others of these measures were only enacted under pressure from the European Court of Human Rights.

Hearing the speech in the Victorian Parliament today I am reminded of the powerful interaction between the past and the present that can be embodied in courageous truth telling, acknowledgement of complicity in dehumanising systems and commitment to reform the structures that have so often been the agents of injustice, not the shelters from injustice.