IT was a moment a group of brave men and women had been waiting almost 40 years for and when the 78ers finally received their apology from the NSW Government, many were overwhelmed with emotion.
Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith passed a motion in state parliament to officially apologise to the 78ers — the founders of Sydney’s first Mardi Gras who faced mistreatment and violence at the hands of police.
The public gallery in NSW Parliament’s lower house this morning was packed with 78ers and supporters. There was standing ovation when the formal apology was delivered by Notley-Smith, who shared an emotional story about the impact the 78ers’ actions had on him as a closeted teenager.
“On that evening you lit a flame… you set into motion a course of events that would change history,” he told the 78ers in parliament.
“For the mistreatment you suffered I apologise and I say sorry. As a proud gay man… I’m offering an apology and I say thank you.”
Other MPs also shared personal stories of the impact the 78ers had on their lives including Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich who said thanks to the efforts of the 78ers, NSW “now has the gayest parliament in Australia”.
“Who in the 78ers would have believed there would be two openly gay MPs in parliament, cross-benchers sitting across from each other,” he said.
Blacktown state Labor MP John Robertson also thanked the 78ers on behalf of his gay son who has “been allowed” to be who he is.
— Chris Pycroft (@chrispytweets) February 24, 2016
Amazing show of multi party unity in NSW Parliament behind @bnotleysmith 78ers apology motion 2nded by John Robertson & Alex Greenwich et al
— Andrew Brown (@abroninvestor) February 25, 2016
— Matt Endacott (@mjendacott) February 25, 2016
Penny Gulliver was not arrested on that fateful night in June 1978 but fought with all her energy to keep police from throwing her friends into the back of paddy vans.
“I was pulling people away from the police. It was such a shock, there was no negotiation. I was trying to save people,” she told the Star Observer.
Gulliver was surprised at the level of public and media interest in the 78ers, but was especially shocked at what she believed was “sincere sorriness” from many politicians.
“The 78ers seem to be developing a source of political agitation on social issues beyond ’78 because of the respect that they’re given,” she said.
“We didn’t think it was special at the time, because it was just what you did, it was a matter of course, it was what you did, to fight for your rights. No one thought we were particularly special at that time, only in hindsight did it become special.
“It’s about recognition about the gay community as a force and a political force. The gay community has a bit of a power lobby now to make comment on social issues.”
85-year-old Ron Austin – known as the “Godfather of Mardi Gras” – told media after the apology that he felt the gay and lesbian n community in 1978 needed to celebrate themselves because they were tired of protesting.
He also said he was pleased with the apology but had moved on from the violent clashes of 1978.
“We were sick and tired of being second-class citizens and being treated the way were were. It was intolerable, inexcusable. This whole discrimination thing was absurd,” he said.
“(The apology) was comprehensive. But I’m past apologies, I got on with being who I was.
“That’s what it’s all about, it’s about life and enjoyment and being true to who you are.”
— NSW GLRL (@NSWGLRL) February 24, 2016
The focus is now on NSW Police to also officially apologise to the 78ers.
Newtown state Greens MP Jenny Leong vowed to hold them accountable and started a petition calling on Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione to follow in the footsteps of the Herald and state government.
“I have experienced the violence and intimidation of the NSW police firsthand,” she said during her speech in parliament.
“But there is nothing I have witnessed that goes to the fear, intimidation, and conscious brutality that the 78ers experienced that night.
“The obvious and necessary step is for an apology to be issued by the NSW police. Until this is done, all the positive work being undertaken through LGBTIQ liaison officers and community outreach at events like Mardi Gras and Wear it Purple Day will not be able to achieve their full potential.”
The Star Observer yesterday asked NSW Police if they planned to apologise to the 78ers. As well as highlighting its Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO) program over the past 25 years, a NSW Police spokesperson said “at this time, [the apology] is a matter for consideration by the whole of government”.
Members of the police force, including GLLOs, were also present at NSW Parliament during the apology.
— State Library of NSW (@statelibrarynsw) February 25, 2016