It was a buzz to be part of the ‘78ers bus and an honour to be among the original Mardi Gras protesters – some in their 70s and 80s now – many of whom were victims of police homophobic violence. As a teenager who had just finished high school in 1978, I found it distressing at the time to witness this brutality in its homophobic extreme by the very people I thought were there to protect us: police.
This week, watching the mobile phone footage of another generation of queer being thrown to the ground, brings back memories for me, and not good ones. It’s this sense of collective trauma for the queer movement, combined with the hypocrisy of celebration without apology, which is even more upsetting.
Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich has appeared on television assuring the community that he is speaking to the police and there will be a full investigation. I commend him for this. However, experiences – and not good ones – have taught me that the investigative system is fundamentally flawed and there will only be an oversight investigation (the police investigating the police). I am calling for an independent commission of inquiry where outsiders investigate a history of and not just the latest example.
When I was also arrested in 1978 as a teenager I was thrown into a paddy van, finger printed, and spent 20 hours in a jail cell. I was grateful that I didn’t get bashed, though I was fearful that I would be next as I watched others be taunted and assaulted by police.
Our names were published in The Sydney Morning Herald, and even though I really hadn’t made my mind up about my sexuality at that stage, I think it took many years to come to terms with being queer, polyamorous and bisexual; it was pretty full-on to be shamed in the paper. I was lucky to have parents with a penchant for human rights. Others were not that lucky.
I think it’s important now, 35 years later, that we seize the moment of Mardi Gras and request an official apology. I think it would be a sign of respect to our aging GLBTIQ population.
It would be really very nice if the police commissioner joined in. Though these human rights abuses were not committed during his time in office, it’s never too late to say sorry. I believe that if the NSW Police said sorry for homophobic violence of the past, it would set a great example. Let’s start the ‘Time to Say Sorry Mr Scipione’ campaign. It’s great that cops, sailors and soldiers get to march in uniform. But it’s important not just to be sartorially fabulous, but to say sorry for the past and for the NSW Police to atone for sins of the past (and present).
I was touched by so many of the queer youth garbed in sequins that came to thank all the 78ers for the freedoms they now take for granted. The fight lives on.