After a lifetime fighting for equality, alumnus and human rights activist Rodney Croome AM was recognised for the profound impact one person can have on the world.
When he began his quest to overhaul Tasmanian laws and attitudes towards equality, there was a blanket silence and deep antagonism about LGBTQI people and their rights.
Until May 1997, homosexuality was a criminal offence punishable by up to 21 years in jail; Tasmania was the only state that stigmatised transgender people by outlawing cross-dressing and law reform proposals sparked angry protests.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr Croome and other Tasmanians, the island state is now leading the nation when it comes to advancing human rights and creating a more inclusive and tolerant society.
Mr Croome was presented with an honorary degree – a Doctor of Letters – conferred on him by the University Council.
At a graduation ceremony in Hobart in December, Vice-Chancellor Professor Rufus Black said Mr Croome followed his path and reshaped the world around him for the better.
“Thanks to the work of Rodney and many other Tasmanians, the island state has been transformed from having Australia's worst laws and attitudes on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights to having the best,” Professor Black said.
Mr Croome grew up on a dairy farm in Tasmania's North West and studied European History at the University of Tasmania, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1988.
He spent more than a decade of his life fighting for marriage equality for all Australians.
More recently he played a leading role in establishing LGBTIQ inclusion initiatives in Tasmanian state schools and in the Tasmania Police Service.
Mr Croome told the audience at the graduation that he was humbled by the honour and proud Tasmania was now a leader on equality issues.
“In a generation, Tasmania has gone from worst to best, we have every reason to call ourselves the rainbow island,” he said.
“The history of this speculator transformation is long, and at times painful, it was only possible because many people worked together to pool their talents and encourage each other.
“People across the political, religious and cultural spectrum put fundamental qualities of equality and inclusion above their traditional differences.”
He said success was forthcoming because they took risks, told truths and protested old laws and attitudes forthrightly, but always respectfully.
“Most of all it was only possible because we told our personal stories about what it was like to be treated like second-class citizens.
He said they had faith that deep-down Tasmanians wanted to do the right thing.
“If I’m proud of anything more than how far we have come it is that our faith in our fellow citizens was well founded.”
We can all learn from Tasmania’s transformation, Mr Croome said.
“I know many of us feel pessimism and despair about the great problems of our age.
“We fear there is nothing we can do about spiralling climate change, escalating inequality and creeping authoritarianism.
“When you feel discouraged, or powerless, recall how this tiny corner of the planet defied every expectation to pull itself up by its rainbow bootstraps and reinvent itself.
“We should take heart that if an island that once tore itself apart about LGBTIQ equality can become a beacon of inclusion then there is nothing inevitable about the problems that we face.
“Profound change is possible and each of us can play a part in that change. Have faith, as we did, in other people and in the future.”