Retired High Court Judge Michael Kirby has predicted there will one day be a parliamentary apology to the LGBT community, like the one given to the stolen generation.
In his contribution to a collection of essays on justice issues to be sent to secondary schools and universities, Kirby wrote:
“One day there will be a big parliamentary apology in Australia to gay people for the oppression that was forced on them and the inequalities that were maintained in the law well beyond their use-by date. Just like the delayed 2008 apology to the Aboriginal people of our country.”
Kirby blamed continuing homophobia in Australia on a lack of good leadership. He said Australians had managed to largely overcome racism by getting to know people from different cultures.
“We would all overcome homophobia more quickly if every gay person were open and felt able to say without fear of violence and discrimination: ‘This is me. Get over it. It is no big deal!’ ” he wrote.
An editorial in the Herald-Sun entitled ‘No more sorries’ criticised Kirby’s remarks, saying “It represents a collective guilt to which most of us would plead innocence.”
“How many times are we to say ‘sorry’ and for how many injustices, real or perceived?” the editorial continued “What is more important is to recognise discrimination and remove it, not seek to lay blame.”
“I agree that practical measures to secure complete civic equality and to remove discrimination are urgent priorities,” Kirby told SX. “I will be watching the Herald Sun and other outlets of the News Ltd stable to see how far they practise what they preach.”
He pointed out he had also called for an apology from the churches, naming the cases of Copernicus and Galileo, as well as victims of institutional abuse, as precedents.
“The same argument against apologising was raised by the previous government to resist the National Apology to the Aboriginal people of Australia,” Kirby said. “But I think it is fair to say that, when the apology was eventually given, it was very useful, united most of the politicians and people and allowed for a new beginning.”
Kirby said his experience in the courts and in mediation had taught him that apologies and expressions of regret often have a beneficial effect on future relationships.
“As to too many apologies, we should be ready to give them as often as they are justified. And that is certainly the case for sexual minorities in Australia who for too long, and still in some respects, have been treated as second class citizens,” Kirby said.
“Homophobia is still a live force in Australia. We should be big enough to consider new ways to tackle it. Not so much for the oldies like me. But for the young, gays and straights.”