LET THERE BE LIGHT: Decision ends suffering

A WODONGA disability worker says he has found light in the darkness after the Victorian Premier announced yesterday the criminal records of men convicted of gay sex would be erased.

At 14, Tom Anderson, now 51, was the victim of a sexual predator more than twice his age, four years before laws against male homosexuality were abolished in 1981.

Instead of being protected by the authorities he turned to for help, police charged Mr Anderson with sodomy.

He had to apologise to the court for having gay sex and he was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond.

The change he had been waiting almost a lifetime for came yesterday, with Premier Denis Napthine announcing his government would be the first in the country to legislate to expunge historical convictions of homosexuality.

“I feel as though a light has been turned on in the darkness of my past,” Mr Anderson said.

“It has been a part of me, it’s been locked in my psyche forever, it has been a weight around my neck.”

Human Rights Law Centre lawyer Anna Brown, who represents Mr Anderson, said change has come because of people like him.

“I think Tom’s story and the stories of people like Noel Tovey (a Melbourne author who has campaigned for the changes) means when we talk to politicians and people in power that the power of the story has an incredible impact and has been a key factor in changing hearts and minds within the Coalition government,” Ms Brown said.

Mr Anderson was a paperboy when his boss at the Melbourne newstand where he worked started to groom him.

He was abused for three months until Mr Anderson told his mother, who took him straight to police.

The 40-something aged boss pleaded guilty to charges of sexual abuse before Mr Anderson’s admissions to police led to the charges against the teenager.

“They turned me from a victim into a criminal,” Mr Anderson said.

Three years ago, and three months after his mother’s death, Mr Anderson sent out a single tweet on the social networking site that read “I have a secret I have kept for 34 years”.

It sparked his involvement in a growing call from men across the state to overturn their convictions.

Mr Anderson was contacted by The Border Mail and he shared his story while sitting at the same table he did yesterday at a Wodonga cafe.

“My mother always said to me, ‘please wait until the time was right’. She wasn’t well towards the end of her life. I don’t know that it was she didn’t want the embarrassment, I just don’t think she wanted the stress,” he said.

“I said a little prayer last night, had a little conversation with my mother and said ‘we were all right. It’s over.’”

He said his mother would feel relief.

“She hated herself for letting it happen. She also hated as I got older, when I turned 40, she told me she hated herself for not having me get counselling back then,” he said.

Dr Napthine, who made the announcement at the opening of Melbourne gay and lesbian festival Midsumma, said it was now accepted that consensual sexual acts between two adult men should never have been a crime.

“We also recognise the social and psychological impacts that have been experienced by those who have historical convictions for acts which should no longer be a crime under today’s law,” he said.

“These convictions have been allowed to stand for far too long, which is why we will legislate to rectify this situation.”

Attorney-General Robert Clark said the reforms would come into place in 2015 with those effected having to apply to have their convictions overturned.

Mr Anderson said the Human Rights Law Centre would make an application on his behalf.

The centre represents three men, but Ms Brown said there could be hundreds affected by the law who have never come forward.

“Our hope is people will start to feel comfortable about coming forward now the government said they will act,” Ms Brown said.

Mr Anderson is now calling for an apology.

“That’s what I’m holding on for,” he said, and his face hardened as he fought tears.

“I want them to say ‘sorry, we got it wrong, the system that you went to to protect you let you down’.”

Anyone affected can email the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby at info@vglrl.org.au.

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