Calls to wipe gay NT sex convictions

Lucy Hughes Jones

Gay men in the Northern Territory who were convicted of homosexuality more than three decades ago must have their records cleared, human rights lawyers argue.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1986, but the NT is the only jurisdiction in the country yet to commit to expunging the historical sex offences.

The Human Rights Law Centre says it has significant impacts on a person's employment, volunteering and overseas travel opportunities.

"It's also an incredible burden for people to live with the shame and stigma of a criminal conviction, often for decades," HRLC advocacy director Anna Brown told AAP.

"It has a profound psychological and emotional impact, especially when that conviction is around conduct which is now lawful today and for many people an integral part of their identity."

It's unknown how many gay men would be eligible to have their convictions quashed but Ms Brown thinks anyone affected should receive compensation.

Other states including Victoria have legislated to rule out the possibility of financial compensation for fines and wrongful imprisonment.

The NT government says it's seeking advice on historical convictions for consensual adult homosexual sex.

"Every Territorian has a right to dignity and respect," a spokesperson said.

"Any process to quash such convictions may be a complex one, involving constitutional issues, and is likely to involve the commonwealth as the Northern Territory didn't gain self-government until 1978."

Federal bodies may be responsible for overturning any cases prior to that.

Ms Brown says the convictions makes working with children checks, visa applications for countries such as the United States and job seeking problematic.

"The criminal record checks that people are required to go through have become more onerous and more prevalent, so the impact of these convictions has actually grown over time," she said.

One of her NSW clients stayed in a public service job for 10 years and then retired early for fear of his secret getting out.

"He'd only shared that information with one other person in his whole life when he rang me, and that's not that uncommon," Ms Brown said.

"It took him four months to give me his last name because he was so worried about someone else finding out."

Another client was training to be a teacher in Queensland but was told he couldn't pursue that career with a "black mark" against his name.

Australia's first gay, indigenous parliamentarian Chansey Paech has backed the calls, with the member for the NT seat of Namatjira saying he'll lobby his Labor party for change.