30 years

Decades of activism

On 8 August 1986 the Homosexual Law Reform Act came into effect, amending the Crimes Act 1961 by decriminalising consensual sexual acts between men.

The Homosexual Law Reform Bill was introduced to Parliament on 8 March 1985. Part I of the Bill passed in July 1986 but Part II outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was defeated.

The success of Part I in Parliament followed debate, education and activism that took place in many public forums and in homes, schools and workplaces throughout the country, resulting in growing public support for reform.

Poster advertising a march in support of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, set for September 13th.Gay Task Force, March in support of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, 1985. Ref: Eph-C-GAY-1985-06.

Decriminalisation came after a public campaign of over 30 years. The Legal Subcommittee of the Dorian Society, a club for homosexual men in Wellington, initiated formal organising in 1963 that led to setting up the NZ Homosexual Law Reform Society.

In the 1970s gay liberation and lesbian-feminist groups pressed for law reform as part of a broad range of changes. The intense public campaign of 1985-1986 took place in the context of the early days of HIV/AIDS and advocates of reform drew on both these traditions of activism.

Decades of collecting

The collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library include many aspects of this history – posters, photographs, manuscripts including the papers of Venn Young, MP, who introduced the first Bill in 1974, publications from supporters and opponents of reform, Hansard debates, and oral histories.

Member of Parliament Gerald Wall addressing homosexual law reform supporters on Parliament grounds.Member of Parliament Gerald Wall addressing homosexual law reform supporters, 1975. Ref: EP-Ethics-Demonstrations-Homosexual Law Reform-02.

The Turnbull Library also houses and provides access to LAGANZ – The Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand Te Pūranga Takatāpui o Aotearoa – which has comprehensive documentation of the thirty year campaign for reform, starting with the papers of the Dorian Society through to the Gay Task Force of the 1980s.

LAGANZ also holds relevant serials, posters, newspapers clippings, scrapbooks, photographs, and an extensive collection of audio recordings including lesbian and gay access radio programmes, Parliamentary debates and interviews. A selection of these recordings along with many other audio resources is available on Pride NZ website.

More about the Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand

If you want to visit the LAGANZ or Turnbull collections, drop us a line through our Ask a Librarian form to discuss your research requirements.

Further sources

Twenty years on: histories of homosexual law reform in New Zealand, Alison J. Laurie and Linda Evans (editors), Wellington, NZ. Lesbian & Gay Archives of New Zealand, 2009.
Record page | Find this book in NZ libraries

Protest in New Zealand!, Brent Coutts and Nicholas Fitness, Auckland, NZ. Pearson, 2013.
Record page | Find this book in NZ libraries

20 years out! (Radio documentary), Gareth Watkins. Radio New Zealand, 2006
Listen to 20 years out! on RadioNZ

By Linda Evans

Linda is the Curator of Oral History & Sound, Alexander Turnbull Library, and is also involved in the curatorial group for LAGANZ.

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