In part four of our series on the history of LGBT laws around the world, we discussed the legacy of the British Empire and its many laws passed by individual colonial administrators in the 19th century. These laws have persisted for over a century, and have resulted in continued oppression against LGBT folks in at least half of the 71 countries that criminalize homosexuality today.
One of those countries was Australia, which has made great strides in adopting pro-LGBT legislation in the last couple decades. Australia was colonized in 1788. Fun fact: although many anti-LGBT laws existed, they targeted gay men for biblical reasons. Sodomy was outlawed. From 1788 to 1899, the punishment for sodomy was execution. From then until 1994, the punishment was life in prison. There were no laws specifically outlawing homosexuality for adult women.
In 1994, Australia passed the Human Rights Act. This law decriminalized consensual sexual activity between adults, including any activity between two gay men.
The fight to make it to that point, though, was long and tumultuous. LGBT rights groups first arose during the late 1960s, when the ACT Homosexual Reform Society was organized in Canberra. The Daughters of Bilitis group was formed in Melbourne in January 1970. These two groups are given credit for jumpstarting a movement that would change the course of history. This led to the Sydney-based Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) forming in June 1970.
One year later, CAMP groups had arisen in every major city and university in the country. Protests erupted quickly. Not by coincidence, homosexuality’s classification as a disease or illness was removed by the Australian Medical Association in October 1973. Most states repealed anti-LGBT laws by 1991.
Although it would take another decade for Australia to decriminalize homosexuality, the last man arrested for sodomy was in Hobart, Tasmania on December 14, 1984 — and realistically, he should’ve been arrested anyway, since he was caught fornicating in public. He was incarcerated for eight months.