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Australian of the Year 2015, Tasmania
Rodney Croome AM has championed gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) rights throughout Australia for more than two decades.
Walking into a Hobart police station with his partner in 1994, Rodney Croome confessed to what was then still a serious crime under Tasmanian law: homosexuality. Rodney’s actions, reported the world over, were a major catalyst for the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in Tasmania, which Rodney took all the way to the High Court of Australia and the United Nations. A champion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) rights in Tasmania and throughout Australia, Rodney has spent the past 26 years campaigning for decriminalisation, anti-discrimination protections, and the recognition of same-sex relationships and families, including marriage equality. He has also worked tirelessly to end discrimination and improve educational and health outcomes for GLBTI people, particularly those in rural and remote communities.
The National Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality, Rodney has made many personal sacrifices in the face of hostility and ignorance, challenging homophobia in schools and in the police service, removing stigma and normalising relationships for same-sex attracted couples. Rodney embodies intelligence, courage, tenacity and vision and his life’s work has transformed Australia and improved the lives of thousands of GLBTI people and their families.
Badge with pink triangle and blue map of Tasmania
Rodney Croome wore this badge the first time he was arrested for GLBTI human rights in Hobart in 1988. The council had banned a Salamanca Market stall calling for homosexuality to be decriminalised. Rodney and his fellow campaigners were arrested for continuing to set up the stall in the face of what they believed to be a discriminatory ban.
'I was one of the first to be arrested.
The badge reminds me of the importance of not giving in to injustice. I was a shy, middle class history student from a dairy farm and was terrified about being led away by police. But I also knew discrimination would only end if it was challenged.'
'The badge gives me hope that change is possible when good people stand together. Each market day more people came to defend our stall until the council gave in. Nine years later, after much campaigning, Tasmania decriminalised homosexuality and enacted the country’s best GLBTI laws. Australia is now a more inclusive nation than ever. Progress is always possible even if it mightn’t always seem so.'
'Most of all, the badge reminds me my work is about belonging. The choice available to gay Tasmanians when I came out was to flee or stay hidden. I fought for another choice, to be gay, Tasmanian and proud of both. Today’s campaign for marriage equality also aims to allow GLBTI people the choice to belong, this time to love someone of the same sex and participate fully in married, family and community life.'
Transcript of video
Jeremy Lasek: For more than two decades Rodney Croome has been a champion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights. He is the Tasmanian Australian of the Year for 2015. Rodney, we have come a long way since you started the struggle and have been involved in the struggle, but you have made great gains both in Tasmania and for the nation. How do you view the journey of the last 20-plus years?
Rodney Croome: Jeremy and everyone, thanks for coming along today. Obviously it's been a difficult journey at times. It's always difficult when there is prejudice and discrimination, and you seek to challenge that. I have always tried to do that in a way which is patient and which brings people together, because prejudice can divide and to overcome it we need to see what we have in common.
In the last 20 years we have, as you say, come a long way. When I first came out in Tasmania in the late 80s, I was in a relationship with another man. It was against the law. I think today most Australians look back at that and think that was ridiculous and how good it is that our nation has moved on. I hope that remaining discrimination in areas like marriage et cetera, in a few years time when we are over that we will look back and think what we were thinking then too.
Social progress is something I have great faith in. I have great faith that our fellow Australians are good-hearted and generous people and that, when we point out the damage that prejudice does, we can move on from it.
Jeremy Lasek: Your object relates to the struggle and goes way back to the 1980s. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Rodney Croome: Yes. Not long after I came out we had a little stall at Salamanca market in Hobart. Some officials didn't like us being there so the stall was banned. We thought that was unfair so we set it up again and the police came in. I was wearing the badge that I have put in the exhibition the first time I was arrested. It is important to me not only because it is a symbol to me of standing up for something you believe in but also because it represents the fundamental reason that I do what I do, and that is the desire to belong.
The badge has a little pink triangle, which is the symbol of the gay rights movement around the world, and a little Tasmania which are sort of similar shapes. And they are coming together. That represents to me the coming together of two fundamental aspects of who I am - as a gay man and as someone who is a proud Tasmanian. There is nothing more important in our life than finding that place where we belong and not being cut off from that by discrimination or by inequality. So then I was was driven by the desire to belong, and I still do. I hope other people take inspiration from that, that we all should feel that we belong.
Jeremy Lasek: Well, you belong here today. Please thank Rodney Croome.