THE unexplained absence of Victoria Police in attending an anniversary screening of a documentary about a police raid on a Melbourne gay club has prompted concerns that this is a setback in their relationship with the LGBTI community.

The Tasty Club Reunion documents the infamous 1994 Victoria Police raid on Tasty, a gay nightclub on Melbourne’s Flinders St, during which almost all of the 463 patrons were publicly strip-searched. Millions of dollars were awarded to patrons as part of a class action against Victoria Police, and the case led to a raft of positive changes to the force.

Sergeant Electra Wellens initially accepted an invitation by the Melbourne Queer Film Festival to attend Sunday’s screening of the documentary, and stated that head of the new Priority Communities Division Sue Clark would participate in a panel discussion afterwards.

Days later, Victoria Police retracted their initial acceptance without explanation, stating a formal response would be forthcoming.

The formal response was never received, and film festival director Lisa Daniel received no response to two requests for a replacement for Clark, who was copied in on the requests.

Daniel told the Star Observer she was disappointed, and had considered the panel an opportunity for Victoria Police to talk about how far their relationship with the LGBTI community had come.

“Perhaps I was naïve, as given [Victoria Police] were a no-show without reason, it leads me to believe that we have a way to go yet,” she said.

Responding to questions from the Star Observer, Victoria Police called the lack of a formal response “an oversight”, and characterised the organisation’s relationship with the LGBTI community as “one of respect”.

“Victoria Police did initially agree to attend the screening of the documentary however, after considering that the raid was 20 years ago and most of the officers involved are no longer with Victoria Police, we did not think it was appropriate to send someone who was unfamiliar with the incident to speak authoritatively on behalf of Victoria Police,” Leading Senior Constable Adam West said.

West did not to respond to specific questions from the Star Observer about why a replacement speaker was not provided, and who made the decisions to accept and then refuse the invitation to participate in the panel. He also declined to indicate whether Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police Ken Lay was aware of the decisions.

A number of community representatives involved in the screening addressed a joint letter to Lay criticising Victoria Police’s absence at the event and raised concerns it could damage the forces’s relationship with the LGBTI community.

Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Anna Brown told the Star Observer her involvement with Victoria Police through the lobby had been positive, so their absence at the panel was “a surprise”.

“The absence of a representative has left a lasting impression that Victoria Police are unable or unwilling to have a public conversation about what has become a watershed moment in LGBTI rights history in Victoria,” she said.

Panel participant and executive director of the Anti Violence Project Greg Adkins told the Star Observer there has been a lot of success in changing the culture of Victoria Police since the Tasty raid and this was “a step backwards”.

“There are people we work with in the community that still remember the days when Victoria Police targeted them and acted inappropriately,” Adkins said.

Shaun Miller was at the Tasty raid, and also spoke on the panel. He told the Star Observer he didn’t believe Victoria Police’s absence will have any serious impact but regarded it as a missed opportunity.

“I know some people at the club at the time were very traumatised by the event, because some people at the club may not have been out at work at the time or out to their families, so they couldn’t talk about it with people,” Miller said.

Miller called the Tasty raid “Melbourne’s answer to the Stonewall riots” in terms of its impact on the LGBTI community and its ongoing cultural legacy.

(Photo: Promo image from The Tasty Club Reunion documentary) 

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