PRESSURE is mounting on NSW Police to issue a formal apology for its mistreatment of the men and women who started Sydney’s first Mardi Gras parade in 1978 after similar announcements made by the NSW Government and Sydney Morning Herald this week.
On Sunday, Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith said the “78ers” would receive a formal apology in state parliament tomorrow for the mistreatment and violent treatment they received while this morning the Herald’s editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir said the newspaper would apologise for printing the names, addresses and occupations of the 53 people arrested three days after the first Mardi Gras parade took place.
“This is very good news from the [the Herald] and I agree that it makes the police look extremely isolated and they need to step up to the plate on this,” said one 78er, Dr Jo Harrison.
“I think it is essential that the Commissioner for Police and the Minister for Police make a formal apology so that it coincides with the cross-party apology from the NSW government to be made tomorrow. Otherwise there will be a glaring gap relating to the events of June 24, 1978 and the process of making an apology to those of us who were there will not be complete.
“I am actually overwhelmed at the [the Herald’s] action. So significant. Very historic moving moment.”
The Star Observer asked Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione if NSW Police planned to apologise to the 78ers and when it would do so.
“At this time, this is a matter for consideration by the whole of government,” a NSW Police spokesperson responded via email.
“However, NSW Police has developed rewarding relationships with members and stakeholders within LGBTI communities.
“Over the past 25 years, our Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO) program has worked with the LGBTI community to address numerous issues including bias crime, domestic violence and the challenges facing young, transgender and intersex people when seeking support.
“The GLLO program owes its inception to dedicated individuals and groups who advocated to address important issues within the gay and lesbian community. It is the result of their commitment in lobbying the government and the police to establish appropriate contact officers within the community.”
Pride History Group vice-president and 78er Ken Davis said many of the activists would value the apologies, especially those who had their lives ruined when they were “outed” in the Herald.
However, he said there were many ironies around the apology.
“It’s has been a long time coming… for me the night of the first Mardi Gras was miraculous, the idea was to have night time celebration, to be free and that’s when we got attacked,” Davis said.
“In so many ways we have less freedom now; the police have tasers, the [lockout laws] have been bad for the night life.
“The first Mardi Gras was almost spontaneous, we were celebrating in a public space. Now it’s highly regulated (by police) and commercialised.”
Robert French drove from Canberra to support the 78ers after they were arrested. He described the Herald’s decision to publish their names, addresses and occupations in the newspaper as “an act of bastardry”.
Gail Hewison, who was one of the arrested 78ers, said she had a false name published in the Herald because she was lucky to have not had ID on her when police charged her.
Nonetheless, she welcomed the newspaper’s apology today.
“However, to publish a list of names on the front page as I remember it, was hugely homophobic, sensationalist, vindictive and mean, considering the LGBT people marching were simply marching for civil rights and were not criminals,” she said.
“If the editor of [the Herald] from 1978 is still alive today I would like to see his name added to the apology.”
The Star Observer has contacted the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for comment.