When Henry Collier logged on to the website of University of Wollongong gay student website Allsorts in October 2004 he was shocked.
Alongside the usual information for queer students, the Albion Park Rail resident found a link to a series of anti-gay messages under the name John Christopher Sunol.
Over the following week Collier searched the internet and found homophobic postings bearing Sunol’s name on various public websites.
I have spoken out sharply against the Gay Lobby and feminist lefttist (sic) social changes which are anti-God and out to destroy todays (sic) society, part of one of the messages read.
Statements on a different website said faggots are all wicked evil people and God will burn Sydney to the Ground because of the evilness of these fags. Other postings attacked Mardi Gras.
Collier, a long-time member of Mardi Gras and the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, decided to call Sunol to account.
In late October 2004 the former University of Wollongong lecturer lodged a complaint about the postings made under Sunol’s name with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board.
After attempts at conciliation failed, the Anti-Discrimination Board referred the case to the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal.
In November the Tribunal found that five of Sunol’s internet postings amounted to homosexual vilification under the Anti-Discrimination Act, in a decision that could potentially pave the way for other internet vilification cases. Sunol has lodged an appeal with the Tribunal, scheduled to be heard on 25 May.
The Tribunal ruled four of the statements -“ including the attack on faggots -“ were sweeping generalisations of a highly insulting and offensive nature.
Sunol’s statement about the Gay Lobby was extreme and hostile and was also unlawful vilification, the Tribunal ruled.
The decision included reference to the vilification case brought by activist Gary Burns against radio broadcasters John Laws and Steve Price in 2004. It also referred to the 2002 Tribunal ruling that awarded Burns damages from his former neighbour John Dye for homosexual vilification.
In a second ruling on Friday last week, the Tribunal gave Sunol two weeks to publish an apology for the statements and remove any of his internet postings relating to homosexual men, lesbians, homosexuality or the gay lobby.
Sunol -“ a former University of Wollongong student now living in Newcastle -“ was also barred from posting more messages on these topics and was ordered to pay Collier’s costs.
Sunol told the Tribunal he put some of the items on the internet but denied writing others. He also claimed hackers lifted two of the other postings from private emails and put them online. The Tribunal rejected these claims.
Sunol told Sydney Star Observer he was very upset with the Tribunal’s ruling and was awaiting the outcome of his appeal.
He said he was a Christian who did not agree with the gay lobby, but he denied hating homosexuals.
I don’t hate gays. There’s nothing to say I hate gays. I’ve never hated gays, he said.
Jo Shulman, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre solicitor representing Henry Collier, said the Tribunal’s decision confirmed internet publication constituted a public act -“ a key requirement for a vilification finding.
This issue hadn’t been previously considered by the ADT, so it does give us some precedent, Shulman told the Star.
Collier said the Tribunal’s initial ruling was a win for the community.
The aim was to get somebody to enforce the anti-vilification law, he told the Star.
We obviously think that the community is better off, that the community now has a little bit more protection against vilification and that the law is indeed enforceable.