POLITICIANS from across the political divide have called for an official apology for the police brutality and arrests during the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1978.
The comments came at an LGBTI forum held yesterday in the inner Sydney suburb of Ultimo in advance of next month’s state election.
Asked whether the government and police should apologise for events in June 1978 – when police confiscated the lead float, arrested protesters and beat many while they were in custody – all the candidates concurred this should happen during the lifetime of the next parliament.
The names of those arrested were published the following day in the Sydney Morning Herald, publicly outing many and leading some to lose their jobs.
Upper house Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi said: “We need to not just legislate to correct past mistakes, and an apology is a huge part of that, but also learn from the other mistakes such as the police harassment and sniffer dogs and the Greens are completely opposed to those tactics”.
Upper house Nationals MP Trevor Khan said that in hindsight, it was wrong that politicians hadn’t pushed for an apology when historical gay sex convictions were expunged last year.
“Why we didn’t do it at the time was purely tactical,” he said.
“We wanted to get that bill through [and] we didn’t know whether we were going to meet resistance… maybe we were a little bit timid [but] we just didn’t know how things were going to go.”
Khan said the authorities were not the only organisation that should be making an apology.
“I think it’s fair to hold governments to account but there are other groups that are also need to reflect upon their past approached including the Sydney Morning Herald,” he said.
Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith said he would also support an official apology.
The NSW Beat Project monitors homophobic violence and accusations of police harassment at beats.
Talking to the Star Observer, Richard Capauno from the project backed the political push for an official apology and said the police should not march at the Mardi Gras Parade until one was forthcoming.
“The gay community have been waiting far too long for an apology from NSW Police for its brutality towards the community and its lack of action over the beat murders of the 80s and 90s,” he said.
“Until that happens police should be banned from marching in the parade to send a clear message that the community deserves to be treated better.”
As well as calling for an apology, the panel were also in agreement that an independent complaints commission of the police’s activities – which could look into allegations the force could have done more to solve the beat murders – should be set up.
“An independent oversight body doesn’t fix the past but it fixes the future,” Khan said.
The state’s anti-discrimination laws, which currently fail to protect bisexuals and people of intersex status and provide multiple exemptions in areas including education, health care and community services, were also under the spotlight.
Shadow transport minister and Labor candidate for Newtown Penny Sharpe said state laws had yet to catch up with the federal Anti-Discrimination Act.
“The NSW law is very old, it’s been added to over the years, it’s a real mix and match and to try and read it is quite impenetrable,” she said.
“We need a review and Labor’s vowed to do that if we get elected, I think there’s general agreement for that happen.”
Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich said his priority was to amend the act to benefit trans* people and those of intersex status: “We have a number of laws that specifically allow people to discriminate against a trans* person and force trans people to divorce their partner in order to keep their documents accurate.”
On same-sex marriage, Notley-Smith said he was comfortable holding a position at odds with the Liberal party and he continued to lobby for equality.
However, he said reform was inevitable on the issue: “There’s opponents in both parties but I think were winning over but it will happen eventually.”
The only clash of the evening came between Notley-Smith and Sharpe, with the former claiming HIV funding would be safe under a re-elected Coalition government and the latter saying the Liberals had cut overall health spending.