In this podcast Alison talks about the killing of Charles Aberhart in 1964.
Aberhart had been cruising in Hagley Park when he was beaten to death. Six youths - Zane McDonald, Anthony O'Connor, Frank Reynolds, Raymond Neither, Brian Johns and Roger Williams were later found not guilty of his manslaughter.
This podcast, presented by Dr. Alison Laurie, delves into the Hagley Park killing of Charles Aberhart in 1964 and its repercussions on the gay community’s fight for legal rights in New Zealand. Former Gender and Women's Studies Programme Director at Victoria University of Wellington, Laurie, outlines the events surrounding Aberhart's murder in Christchurch's Hagley Park, as well as the subsequent trial and societal reactions.
On the evening of January 23, 1964, in Hagley Park near a public toilet, Charles Aberhart, a gay draper from Blenheim, was attacked by a group of teens, resulting in their death. A passerby found Aberhart's body, and witnesses identified the adolescents responsible for the assault, leading to their arrest the following morning.
Aberhart was previously convicted of indecent assault, having received a lighter sentence under the rationale that the engagement was consensual. However, this prior legal skirmish foreshadowed the dangers they faced, including the active hostile environment against the queer community in Hagley Park, a fact that they were unfortunately unaware of.
During the trial which commenced on May 5, 1964, the group's admission of the attack was not enough to secure a conviction. The all-male jury, advised by the judge to focus on the collective action rather than on identifying the individual who dealt the fatal blow, ultimately acquitted the teenagers. This outcome sparked outrage among the public and prompted discussions on the biases of the legal system, rather than on the plight of the gay community or the safeguarding of their human rights.
The media's response to the incident was tepid, with papers such as The Christchurch Press pondering jury relevance rather than the hate crime aspect. Only sparse commentaries from journals like Landfall and Comment tackled the social implications and prejudices revealed by the case. An editorial in The Listener magazine, considered progressive for the time, described Aberhart sympathetically, albeit with an understanding of homosexuality as sickness, which was still the psychological consensus until the 1970s.
This case, nonetheless, proved pivotal as it ignited activism, leading to the formation of the New Zealand Homosexual Law Reform Society. This organization, inspired by the outrage over the unjust trial outcome, sought to align New Zealand's legal treatment of homosexuals with just and equitable standards. In the years following Aberhart's tragic death, support grew, including from heterosexual allies, for legislative reform and broader public recognition of gay rights.
Laurie's podcast not only recounts the details of this crucial event in New Zealand's queer history but also demonstrates the catalytic role it played in the gay community's pursuit of justice and equality. The killing of Charles Aberhart, while a lamentable act of violence, served as the rallying point from which significant strides towards legal reform and societal acceptance could begin.
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