THE latest in a series of public forums addressing the relationship between alcohol and violence in Brisbane was held last week, specifically looking at homophobic and transphobic incidences.
The Safe Night Out series of discussions have been facilitated and initiated and organised by Brisbane Central state Liberal-National MP Robert Cavallucci, following a decision by the Queensland Premier to look into ways at tackling violence within popular social areas around the city.
The forum was held at the Wickham Hotel last Monday with a panel of experts and an audience of over 100 participants, including local political and community organisation representatives, police, academics and LGBTI community members.
“Ultimately safety, the safety of patrons and the safety of all of us within [the LGBTI] community is particularly a part of a conversation that the government is having at the moment with the wider Queensland community,” Cavallucci told the assembled crowd.
QuAC executive director John Mikelsons, who were present at the event, said his organisation was eager to be involved in working towards improving the health and welfare of marginalised LGBTI people who felt that they could not speak out normally.
“QuAC is really proud to be able to work with [Cavallucci]… Marginalised communities like ours needs to be heard and need to stand up and be counted.”
The forum was given an insight into operations of the Queensland Police LGBTI Liaison Officer that started 18 years ago.
“We have over 100 police personnel who have nominated themselves above their normal duties… to assist helping the LGBTI community,” Community Contact Command LGBTI Liaison Officer Senior Sergeant Mel Cowie said.
Cowie also spoke of the “ally” program Queensland Police have set up with local universities that aim to link LGBTI students, who have experienced homophobic or transphobic abuse, with local liaison officers.
Statistics were delivered to the crowd by one of the co-writers of the 2010 book, Speaking Out: Stopping Homophobic and Transphobic Abuse in Queensland, Dr Shirleen Robinson from Macquaire University.
According to Dr Robinson, 83 per cent of respondents experienced homophobia in their lifetimes and 53 per cent had experienced some form of it within the last two years, with verbal abuse being the most common — having been experienced by 73 per cent of respondents.
Dr Robinson also found that 23 per cent had experienced physical homophobic assault, while nine per cent had experienced violence with a weapon.
Forum attendees were given the chance to ask questions to members of the panel resulting in some in-depth and sometimes heated exchanges.
A victim of alleged homophobic violence back in January, Brian Bugden, spoke of his experience in dealing with the local Fortitude Valley police unit, getting in contact with a LGBTI liaison officer and comments made that upset him. He said it took three weeks to get in touch with an officer, and he did not think it was a positive experience.
However, Bugden said that he was eventually put in contact with a helpful liaison officer and praised him for his work.
There were also some concerns brought up that there were not more readily-accessible liaison officers, but Cowie said that recent cuts made to Queensland police had meant liaison officers were already performing extra duties on top of regular ones.
Following a question about LGBTI sensitivity training for the police force, Cowie said that the last specific training course on the issue was conducted in 2010.
Suggestions were made that Queensland police adopt a similar strategy to that of the Anti-Violence Project found in NSW to improve and increase the reporting of homophobic and transphobic abuse.
Cavallucci spoke of being cautious about taking on a similar program, saying that he found that the project in NSW had not yielded enough results and that data suggested that it was not working optimally.
“In terms of the research that came back from the Anti-Violence Project there had only been a fractional increase in the amount of reporting to police,” he said.
However, an audience member said that the NSW program had yielded a positive response from the community in terms of overall satisfaction with the police force, a result that could not really be reflected in data.
“They were really happy to see a well known community organisation like ACON working with police and making sure that people were aware about how the police works and where they could go,” the forum member said.
“That sort of result isn’t captured by statistics but it is documented. The program is very successful in that regard.”
Speaking on her experience in dealing with the Anti-Violence Project, Dr Robinson endorsed the suggestion of a similar program being launched in Queensland and expressed interest in being involved in a pilot program.
“I think that it really does have an important role to play and all the information that we have suggests that LGBTI people really do feel more confident and comfortable reporting through safer systems such as the Anti-Violence Project,” she said.
Mikelsons also endorsed starting up a similar program: “We need to increase reporting. We know that roughly 75 per cent of incidents of abuse go unreported and whatever we come up with, it needs to increase reporting.
Of concern to some forum participants was the treatment of and sensitivity to members of the trans* community by Queensland police. A member of the crowd spoke to the negative treatment he had received and said that almost all his trans* friends had similar experiences.
Police attending the forum said that they were becoming aware of the specific needs and ways to engage with trans* victims of crime and that they were adopting greater sensitivity into their training.
“We are a little bit behind the times on that and we’re certainly working towards improving [trans* sensitiviy],” Cowie told the crowd.
Mikelsons was pleased that the community had their say and that they were able to take their concerns directly to the people in power and policy makers.
“The Valley is where Brisbane’s LGBTI community goes to play. Everyone in our community should have a right to feel safe when we go out and party, and this forum was a brilliant opportunity for our voices to be heard on our home turf,” he said.