Western Australian police have been accused of using brutal force against gay and lesbian student protesters at a march following the national Queer Collaborations conference in Perth last week.

Witnesses accused police of using excessive violence when arresting five protesters at the Friday 8 July rally, including pushing people to the ground and against walls. Police have denied using unnecessary force.

Co-organiser of the Queer Collaborations conference, Beth Cole, told Sydney Star Observer she did not know why the peaceful protest had deteriorated.

I’ve never felt so helpless or powerless, Cole said.

One guy had a gash down his face and was thrown up against a wall -¦ I was grabbed by the neck and arm and I’ve got this huge bruise.

A police spokesperson told the Star a scuffle broke out when one of the protesters used obscene language while speaking though a megaphone.

He was warned by police to stop this but continued and was arrested. As a result other protesters intervened and were then arrested, the spokesperson said.

Four people were charged with obstructing police and one was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Efforts are being made among gay and lesbian university groups to help pay any fines.

Following the arrests, about 100 protesters continued to march, chanting, We’re queer, we’re loud, we’re union and we’re proud.

The protesters called for the federal government to repeal all homophobic laws, particularly last year’s same-sex marriage ban, and shelve planned voluntary student unionism and industrial relations reforms.

Queer Collaborations is a national conference held by university students, who meet annually to discuss LGBTI issues. This year there was a focus on gender identity and queer student unionism.

There was a lot of positive talk about queers in student and trade unions and how we can all work together to create queer liberation, conference participant Annaliese Constable said.

All the protesters wanted to say was that we need unions because unions save lives, queer lives specifically.

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