Homosexual Law Reform 20 years on

It seems incredible that it was only 20 years ago that homosexual acts (and effectively homosexuality) was illegal in NZ. The law change was hugely polarising and dominated the news for months on end. Today I doubt one could find even 5% of the population who seriously think that there should be a law which dictates what sort of sex two consenting adults can have in the privacy of their own bedroom.

I often find it hard to comprehend how only 100 years ago women were not regarded as “able” to vote and how the US remained basically segregated by race until less than 40 years ago. Having seen NZ society change so quickly, it is a good reminder not to be so judgemental of past eras. I am sure today’s 20 year olds can understand how those aged 40+ lived in a time when private sexual acts were illegal, and effectively homosexuality was underground.

The “wrongness” of the pre 1986 law can be seen in how gays and lesbians were portrayed and seen. Up until law reform gay sex was often associated with public toilets and this contributed to it being seen as “perverted”. Today that phenomenon seemed to have almost died out because “queers” looking for partners or sex can go to nightclubs, use the Internet, advertise publicly etc. It was society’s forcing of homosexuality underground that led to much of that behaviour, which led to a vicious cycle where forcing it underground made it easier to maintain support for its illegality.

Incidentally I recall gay friends saying that public toilet sex wasn’t something to do with being gay as much as male, and they suggested that if there was a known public toilet where hetero guys could go and be guaranteed to find a woman to screw, that there would be queues around the block!!

The other thing which strikes me looking back is how stereotypes of gays over-shadowed the reality. I recall at school anyone a bit effeminate was taunted as gay. Shameful in hindsight. But so few people had gay friends or colleagues back then.

Since the law reform, which led to so many people being able to come out and be known as gay with it being no big thing the dynamic has shifted so much for the better. At every job I have held in the last 15 years some of my colleagues have been gay and you know when their partner who attends the xmas party turns out to be the same sex, it is just not even significant.

I think I have mentioned before that I initially opposed the law change. It was no surprise really having been to a single sex boys school where no-one was “out” and the stereotype was these randy sex mad gays would pounce on you in the toilet. University was incredibly liberating for me as after a few months there my world-view changed 100%. I even ended up in the mid 90s being the Honorary Returning Officer for the Gay Assn of Professionals for a couple of years as a friend of mine helped set it up. Was amusing to be the only straight person out of 50 – 100 at the meetings 🙂

I suspect the US with its race problems has been similar. Now that “blacks” such as Colin Powell and Condi Rice has served with distinction at the highest levels, it is a lot harder for bigotry to survive and people to really think that your colour somehow limits your ability.

No Right Turn has a good series of links to articles about how much things have changed in 20 years. I certainly agree that the NZ of today is a far better place to live in than what Idiot/Savant calls “an alien past”. But at the time it was not alien, it was just the way it was.

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