Pressure grows on NSW Police to apologise for Mardi Gras arrests in 1978

Pressure grows on NSW Police to apologise for Mardi Gras arrests in 1978
Image: A group of 78ers walk across the former rainbow crossing at Taylor Square in 2013. (Photo: Steve McLaren)

NSW Premier Mike Baird will be asked by Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore to support an apology to LGBTI community members who were victims of alleged police heavy-handedness at the very first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1978.

More than 50 people were arrested amid ongoing allegations of excessive police force.

Last night, City of Sydney voted to accept a motion from Liberal councillor Christine Forster that will also see Moore request Fairfax Media, publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald, apologise for its actions in printing the names, addresses and occupations of those arrested.

Speaking to the Star Observer, Forster said there had been persistent calls from the 78ers – veterans of the first parade – for police to draw a line under the events.

“An apology is well overdue,” she said.

“The City of Sydney hosts Mardi Gras and a large LGBTI population and so it’s appropriate the city lends its voice to some sort of reconciliation in the community.

“We are taking away the last vestiges of inequality one-by-one and while this [incident] is in the past it is acutely felt by the community and so is part of the healing process.”

In June 1978, six years before homosexuality was decriminalised in NSW, several hundred people marched along Darlinghurst’s Oxford St in support of the gay and lesbian community and to mark the anniversary of New York City’s Stonewall Riots.

When the parade – which now numbered over 1000 people – eventually broke up in Kings Cross, police arrested 53 people with allegations made against the force of violence both on the streets and in the cells where marchers were held.

Co-chair of the 78’ers, Steve Warren, told the Star Observer: “An apology from the NSW Government, and from Fairfax news, is something that many 78ers and the wider community have been calling for some time.”

An amendment to Forster’s motion also commits council to contacting Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione requesting an apology directly from the force.

It is a move backed by Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich, who is also a member of the NSW LGBTI parliamentary cross-party working group.

Many people believe the way in which the police enforced the laws at that time and targeted the LGBTI community was unwarranted, if not brutal,” he said.

“An apology from Scipione would send the message that the police have acknowledged the wrongs of the past and are committed to treating the LGBTI community as they would any other community.”

Greenwich said the LGBTI working group supported a parliamentary apology and he had individually called on Fairfax to apologise.

Last year, Victoria police formally apologised for an infamous gay nightclub raid 20 years prior that saw 460 patrons strip-searched.

When approached by the Star Observer, Fairfax Media declined to comment on the prospects of a mea culpa for identifying those arrested at the march and subsequent protests.

NSW Police also declined to drawn on events at the first Mardi Gras.

However, Detective Superintendent Tony Crandell, NSW Police’s spokesperson on LGBTI issues, said the current relationship between the force and the community was very different to 1978 and cited the 200 gay and lesbian liaison officers (GLLOs) across the state.

“The NSW Police Force has developed rewarding relationships with members and stakeholders within LGBTI communities,” he said.

“The GLLO program owes its inception to dedicated individuals and groups who advocated to address important issues within the gay and lesbian community.”

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38 responses to “Pressure grows on NSW Police to apologise for Mardi Gras arrests in 1978”

  1. Yes a police apology might be a useful part of community healing about the 78 Mardi Gras and similar police attacks on protesters and activists in the 1970s.

    For noting, it seems like the “Pride 78ers honor roll” is a frozen in time list now and it could be expanded by a wider request for detail of participants in MG One and the related demos. Some of the other missing names that come to mind are:

    Robin Hunter
    John Tinkler
    John Hobson
    Paul Drury
    Greg Kirk

    Stephen Tomsen

  2. David, I agree with you. The system of reporting complaints is flawed as well. It’s police from the same police station investigating their own police, many of them their mates. That’s what you get when you file a complaint with the NSW Ombudsman. They refuse to allow independent investigations.

  3. The Sydney Morning Herald and anyone else who published their names, which ruined their lives at the time should apologize and provide compensation for the lose of livelihood, many of those people lost their jobs.

  4. An apology ?? What a load of tripe. Those police involved are long dead or retired. Same for those in Government at the time. What possible value is an apology from somebody who wasn’t involved back then. Get a grip people and stop wollowing in the past. There are far more important issues around at the moment such as the murder of two Aussies at the hands of Indonesia last night and the appalling tragedy in Nepal. Time to put things into perspective please.

  5. My sister in law was one of those arrested – it made Mardi Gras famous – just a simple Thankyou from the gay community is all they asked for – and its what they get every year when they are invited to ride at the front of the parade with the girls : ) I don’t think they give a stuff about what the police might have to say to them 40 years on

  6. The apology from the Victorian police over the Tasty Raids has proven to be a moment of cleansing which has improved the respect with which our police are regarded. An apology from NSW police for its actions over many years, not just at the 1978 Mardi Gras, has the potential to be similarly positive for both the cops and the queers.

  7. Seriously our communities require a national government apology for the violent oppression and attempted assimilation of our people. With all due respect to our hero’s of 78 some half arsed apology from the NSW Police for being violent will never be good enough. We deserve and demand a national apology!

  8. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the arrests were made on a legal justification: that it was an unlawful assembly of sorts. Given that NSWPF still arrests people for protesting without permission from the Commissioner and on their terms, it seems silly for them to apologise for something they continue to do

    • The charges were largely arrested under the Summary Offences Act, in the case of the first Mardi Gras they did actually obtain a permit to march. Almost all the charges ended up being thrown out of court, in the case of the arrests following the protest against the anti-abortion rally following the 4th National Homosexual Conference, these were thrown out when an ABC cameraman and their footage contradicted police evidence. That march didn’t have a permit, though they had been advised that they could ‘march’ down the sidewalk, which is what they were doing when police lined up across Taylors Square ordered them to disperse then immediately arrested them. The support of civil liberties groups was crucial too as they too had become increasingly concerned about police’s arbitrary use of their public assembly control powers.

    • But whichever of the two protests you describe is the one people are suggesting requires an apology the point stands. Just because you have a permit for a March, and regardless if you’re just on the footpath, it does not mean that police cannot charge you for your protest. I guess what I’m getting at is that with the information you have given and what I have read, there is little difference between then and now, particularly in relation to “social justice matters” (if I can conveniently call it all). I just don’t see the point of apologising for something you will keep doing

    • There may well be ongoing harassment, but certainly the breadth and scale of police abuse of powers has significantly reduced over time. If you look at the changing relationship and the improvement over time, albeit far from perfect now as the police response to Scott Johnson case amongst others has shown, then an apology can be seen as a step on the ongoing path towards a more mindful, responsive and engaged relationship between the LGBT communities and the police. There is a difference between then and now, but there is still quite a way to go, and an apology could work towards that end.

    • Things may have changed for homosexuals, but not for other minorities. You see the same shit, if not worse. Any apology I think would be disingenuous when you look at what they do broadly

  9. Almost 180 protestors were arrested all told following the first MG and subsequent protests – more were arrested in subsequent protests than at MG. Also outside of there’s protests was the harassment and entrapment particularly around beats. Focusing just on the first MG is too narrow.

  10. It is high-time to apologise for the hurt and bigotry LGBTI people have been getting by the police, the Sydney Morning Herald and lawmakers 40 years ago! For way too long LGBTI people have been discriminated against in Australia and even today with the federal marriage ban and the state/territory adoption bans in NT, QLD and SA! VIC will allow adoption equality by the end of the year!

  11. The Sydney Morning Herald should also apologise for publishing the names and addresses of those arrested. It was a deliberate attempt to publicly out and humiliate those who are gay.

  12. they also need to apologise to all the men they’ve harassed at beats – while trying to shut them down in recent years, and the many victims of homophobic violence – past and present, that they’ve ridiculed, ignored and denied justice.

    NSW Police have never been our friends, and they never will… Tony Crandell cannot be trusted, along with the seriously flawed GLLO program controlled by Jackie Braw… even City of Sydney Staff and Rangers were colluding with police to harass men at beats.

    • You’re so right there, like the way they handled the murders in the late eighties/early nineties, for instance, by not properly gathering evidence and so on…

    • yeah, nothing has changed… during recent years, victims provided police with dates/times, vehicle and reg’n details, descriptions of bashers, etc. yet police ignored/ridiculed victims… a GLLO even supported bashers and ignored victims over a 2 year period – they harassed and bashed men, even whacked them over the head with a metal pole, yet the matter was quickly covered up by Donna Adney and Jackie Braw when it was revealed a senior police officer was related to one of the bashers…

      acon/avp, ICLC and GLRL were also working with NSW Police to shut down beats… along with Crandell, they didn’t have a problem with this.