VICTORIA Police have apologised for the first time to the LGBTI community and to everyone who was present at the infamous police raid of the Tasty gay nightclub 20 years ago, where more than 460 patrons were publicly strip-searched.
The historic apology was delivered by Acting Chief Commissioner Lucinda Nolan to a small group of community representatives last night, just days before the 20th anniversary of the raid on Thursday, August 7.
“It is therefore appropriate as we near the 20th anniversary of that event that Victoria Police extends a sincere apology to the community members that were impacted by that incident.
“We also extend a general apology to the broader LGBTI community for the impact that this event has had on our relationship over the last two decades.”
Following the raid, millions of dollars were awarded to patrons as part of a class action against Victoria Police. While it damaged the relationship between police and the LGBTI community, the raid was also a catalyst for a raft of positive changes in the force.
Despite the steps forward, police and community representatives acknowledged the severe under-reporting of prejudice-motivated crime by members of the LGBTI community, and the role the Tasty raid played in this.
Lawyer Shaun Miller was one of the 463 patrons strip-searched at Tasty, and delivered a response to the apology.
“I can’t speak for everyone who was at the raid that night. In fact, I can only speak for myself. In my view, the police apology is genuine and sincere and is a wonderful milestone in the road to improving the relationship between the GLBTI community and the Victoria Police,” he said.
“So I hereby solemnly accept tonight’s apology.”
A number of people present were at the raid 20 years ago, including former Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne Gary Singer, who also ran the class action by the Tasty patrons.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s a real step in the right direction,” Singer told the Star Observer.
While no one from Victoria Police who was at the raid attended the apology, Singer hoped they had learnt from their mistakes, explaining the case against the class action had been hard-fought by the police.
Acting Chief Commissioner Nolan told the Star Observer officers involved in the Tasty raid had been contacted in the lead up to the apology, both current and former Victoria Police members.
“[They were] all highly supportive of the apology and very, very committed for us to be giving it,” she said.
One of those contacted was Neil Comrie, who was Chief Commissioner at the time of the raid. Although Comrie was the target of much of the LGBTI community’s anger at Victoria Police, Nolan said she was not sure how much he would have known about the raid before it took place.
“What happens as a Chief Commissioner, you’re not aware of what’s actually occurring across your organisation necessarily,” Nolan said.
She said Victoria Police would be looking into the possibility of a representative from the force attending a community event marking the anniversary to be held this weekend, at the invitation of the event organisers.
Former Tasty photographer Mark Whearem was also at Tasty on the night of the raid, but had been locked out once patrons began being strip-searched by police. He told the Star Observer hearing the apology was an emotional experience.
“So many people are so badly scarred — hopefully this apology will go some way to mending the scars,” he said.
“I know one guy who can’t even really go to pubs, because if the police walk in he freaks out.”
Whearem hoped the apology would restore some trust in the police within the LGBTI community.
Both the police and the community representatives acknowledged the work the organisation has done over the past 20 years to repair that trust, citing the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO) program and the ongoing Victoria Police presence at the Midsumma festival and Pride March.
The “community encounters” program at the Victoria Police Academy has also become a key way for new recruits to be trained in working with diverse and at-risk communities.
The apology itself was the work of the LGBTI community reference group in the police’s newly-established Priority Communities Division.
“Victoria Police has worked hard to build our trust and confidence… All of this work has been hand-in-hand with the LGBTI community,” Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Anna Brown said.
She also spoke to the vital importance of going forward from the apology to continue to build trust and increase rates of reporting for prejudice-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community.
Long-time LGBTI and human rights activist and lawyer Jamie Gardiner was heavily involved in the fallout from the Tasty raid, and said that while for some people it may never be possible to move past what happened in 1994, for most it will be a huge step forward.
“I think most people who learn of this apology on both sides of the fence…will accept that this is a genuine time to move on, that there’s a real regret and a real promise of a better future,” Gardiner told the Star Observer.
Some of the patrons who were present at the raid will host a party on Saturday night to remember the 20th anniversary. Visit the Facebook page for more information.
(Featured photo: Shaun Miller accepts the apology from Acting Chief Commissioner Lucinda Nolan.)