NSW Premier Mike Baird will be asked by Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore to support an apology to LGBTI community members who were victims of alleged police heavy-handedness at the very first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1978.
More than 50 people were arrested amid ongoing allegations of excessive police force.
Speaking to the Star Observer, Forster said there had been persistent calls from the 78ers – veterans of the first parade – for police to draw a line under the events.
“An apology is well overdue,” she said.
“The City of Sydney hosts Mardi Gras and a large LGBTI population and so it’s appropriate the city lends its voice to some sort of reconciliation in the community.
“We are taking away the last vestiges of inequality one-by-one and while this [incident] is in the past it is acutely felt by the community and so is part of the healing process.”
In June 1978, six years before homosexuality was decriminalised in NSW, several hundred people marched along Darlinghurst’s Oxford St in support of the gay and lesbian community and to mark the anniversary of New York City’s Stonewall Riots.
When the parade – which now numbered over 1000 people – eventually broke up in Kings Cross, police arrested 53 people with allegations made against the force of violence both on the streets and in the cells where marchers were held.
Co-chair of the 78’ers, Steve Warren, told the Star Observer: “An apology from the NSW Government, and from Fairfax news, is something that many 78ers and the wider community have been calling for some time.”
An amendment to Forster’s motion also commits council to contacting Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione requesting an apology directly from the force.
It is a move backed by Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich, who is also a member of the NSW LGBTI parliamentary cross-party working group.
“Many people believe the way in which the police enforced the laws at that time and targeted the LGBTI community was unwarranted, if not brutal,” he said.
“An apology from Scipione would send the message that the police have acknowledged the wrongs of the past and are committed to treating the LGBTI community as they would any other community.”
Greenwich said the LGBTI working group supported a parliamentary apology and he had individually called on Fairfax to apologise.
Last year, Victoria police formally apologised for an infamous gay nightclub raid 20 years prior that saw 460 patrons strip-searched.
When approached by the Star Observer, Fairfax Media declined to comment on the prospects of a mea culpa for identifying those arrested at the march and subsequent protests.
NSW Police also declined to drawn on events at the first Mardi Gras.
However, Detective Superintendent Tony Crandell, NSW Police’s spokesperson on LGBTI issues, said the current relationship between the force and the community was very different to 1978 and cited the 200 gay and lesbian liaison officers (GLLOs) across the state.
“The NSW Police Force has developed rewarding relationships with members and stakeholders within LGBTI communities,” he said.
“The GLLO program owes its inception to dedicated individuals and groups who advocated to address important issues within the gay and lesbian community.”