Part 1: Mardi Gras Apology “Hollow & Meaningless”
February 22, 2016
Mardi Gras Apology Part 3
Sydney Mardi Gras appears to have sleepwalked into a controversy over the official parliamentary apology to the original marchers, known as the 78ers. Here are their words, using existing published sources, about what happened to them, and about the apology. Many are angry, feeling that the apology is inadequate: mere word with no practical restitution or genuine attempt to right past wrongs, or prevent future ones.
What follows is eyewitness testimony from Peter Murphy and Sally Colechin, with responses to the proposed apology by Mark Gillespie, Coco Lossill and Jo Harrison.
The man most severely beaten by the NSW Police was not even consulted about the apology, and is considering his reaction to it. His story of the beating he received and its impact is chilling:
When we got into the yard of the nearby Darlinghurst Police Station the other three were ordered out and I was ordered to stay, by a police officer contorted with rage. In a minute or two he and another came back to get me and walked me fast down a corridor past cells, around to the right and then right again into a room with some equipment stored in it.
The angry cop, who turned out to be a former Australian javelin throwing champion, flogged me until I was convulsing and the other police officer called him off… I could hear a large crowd outside chanting against the police bashing, calling for our release, calling out my name. I felt elated that people cared about me and fearful that the cops would come in and bash me some more.
I had to give up my volunteer work for a while, give up selling Tribunes and try to recover… I had the symptom of trauma where I dreamed day and night about the bashing repeatedly, and in my dreams and day dreams I always managed to beat up the police man. My head ached where it had been struck for many months. It took me about three years to feel I had recovered.
Watch William Brougham’s interview with 78er Sally Colechin, one of the organisers of the original march, and an eyewitness to the events of that day. It gives a good sense of what it was like to be caught up in the events of that day.
Another organizer of the event, Ken Davis, said of those arrested
“You could hear them in Darlinghurst police station being beaten up and crying out from pain. The night had gone from nerve-wracking to exhilarating to traumatic all in the space of a few hours. The police attack made us more determined to run Mardi Gras the next year.”
Writing about the apology on The Conversation, Mark Gillespie called for a “living apology”, plus an apology from Fairfax Press for publishing the names and addresses of those arrested, causing many to lose their jobs and homes:
Sadly, any apology now is too late for so many who were present at that first Mardi Gras and are no longer with us. Many were cut down before their time in the HIV AIDS epidemic.
The efforts of these NSW parliamentarians, though, are important and mean a great deal to the 78ers that survive. Back in 1978 we called, in vain, for a Royal Commission into the police violence of that June night. We also called for an apology from Fairfax for publishing the names, occupations and addresses of all of the 53 people who were arrested that night.
Till this time no formal apology has been received from Fairfax. After nearly 38 years since the first Mardi Gras an apology by the NSW State parliament would help to heal the wounds.
So as an original 78er I welcome an apology by the NSW Parliament. But it needs to be a “living apology”. A living apology is one where Parliament affirms the need for ongoing vigilance so that the human rights of LGBTIQ people are respected and protected in law.
It also has to affirm the need for ongoing social investment in educational programs that create a more inclusive NSW community where differences are respected and where the power of diversity is celebrated.
Also on the Conversation, Coco Lossil remembered the savage repercussion for many 78ers, and echoed the call for “more tangible reparations”:
I am a 78er… I still carry the police baton injury sustained to my knees. When younger it was a mild limp and inconvenience, but each year as I age is becomes more painful and a greater source of pain and mobility problems. I do wonder whether something like an online veteran’s service where any of us who would like help from the community could post our request and someone interested in helping could respond would be a useful gesture.
So much is done for veterans in other conflict contexts and many would no longer know the huge financial, career, educational and family connections that were put on the line when participating in public protests like this.
A student at MU had in fact lost her Commonwealth teaching scholarship, and threats to her liberty via psychiatric threats simply for publishing a poem celebrating her love for her girlfriend. Her teaching career ended as a result but pleased to report she managed to survive the trauma to make a life doing something else. Another boy at MU was kicked out of student college. The Sydney Morning Herald photos and use of names resulted in another female teacher at a private girl’s school being given her marching orders.
The repercussions were savage for many of us… The apology is a lovely gesture and especially appreciated by those of us subject to homophobic abuse as students by Christine Forster’s brother and his sniggering conservative mates but consideration of other, more tangible reparations should be the next step.
Jo also wrote (on Facebook) about the need for some practical measures and not just a form of words, calling for a Royal Commission into the many unsolved and miscategorised murders of gay men in Sydney over the years, and the removal of religious exemptions to discrimination law..
I am a 78er. As far as I am concerned, an apology without concrete action and reparations / redress / compensation in some form attached to it is hollow and meaningless. Just like the apology to the stolen generation.
Oh sorry, but forget about compensation or not having your communities shut down or your legal services and health services gutted. It’s the same. If you want to apologise to me and have me even remotely take it seriously then tell me what actual PRACTICAL things you intend to do IMMEDIATELY by way of recompense.
Royal Commission into the gay murders?
Sort out the ongoing problems with the community and the NSW police force?
Remove ALL RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS NOW from ALL AREAS of discrimination?
Otherwise it is just more hollow words and they mean nothing. I would rather you worked on getting the actual reason why the event took place and what it actually was in 1978 right first. Continuing to convolute and distort my history insults me. Then offering me an apology without concrete action insults me more.
If some 78ers think the apology is sufficient for them, fine. That’s not the case for me. I was never one for words without action. And whoever ‘the 78ers’ are, we are not one body, one entity, which government can say it has ‘agreed’ or ‘sorted out the wording’ on this with.
We are many, and we have NOT all been consulted about this apology or its wording. We are as diverse as we were in June 1978. For me, sorry seems to be the hardest word, but hard action is always what really counts. I await something concrete and meaningful.
A good source for what really happened – and to help understand why the proffered apology is inadequate – is the Sydney Pride History Group.
Click HERE for a timeline of events in 1978
About the author
Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)
State MPs to apologise for mistreatment of first Sydney Mardi Gras marchers
New South Wales will apologise for ‘the struggles and harm’ faced by participants in Sydney’s first Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1978
The first Mardi Gras entrants from 1978 at the 30th Annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney in 2008. Photograph: Jane Dempster/AAP
Sunday 21 February 2016
The New South Wales parliament will offer a historic apology on Thursday for the ill-treatment of the participants of Sydney’s first Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1978, known as the 78ers.
Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith was expected to announce the apology at the Mardi Gras Fair Day on Sunday and to move the apology motion in the state’s Legislative Assembly on Thursday morning.
Notley-Smith said the apology would “acknowledge the significance of the events of that [first Mardi Gras] in June 38 years ago; the struggles and harm caused to the many who took part in the demonstration and march, both on that night and in the weeks, months and years to follow”.
The motion reflected the NSW parliament’s determination to ensure discrimination and mistreatment of the LGBTI community never happened again, he said.
“Many 78ers are no longer with us; many have lived a life of hurt and pain, and many took their own lives. This apology is for all of them,” Notley-Smith said.
The motion has been drafted by a cross-party working group with direct input from the 78ers and has support from all major parties.
The first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras took place on 24 June 1978 when more than 500 people assembled at Taylor Square for a public demonstration and march calling for an end of the criminalisation of homosexual acts, discrimination against homosexuals and for a public celebration of love and diversity.
In the 1978 protest 53 marchers were arrested and many reported suffering violence at the hands of police.
Last Thursday a panel of six 78ers addressed a Mardi Gras event on their experience of the first protest and the importance of an apology. The panelists described harms from participation in the first Mardi Gras, including police brutality and that many 78ers were outed as gay against their will and lost their jobs after their names were published in the newspaper.
Mark Gillespie, a 78er, said he was “deeply, deeply emotional” about the prospect of an apology.
“I’m thinking of the people who are no longer around, people who have passed away. Right through that period leading up to the 1978 civil unrest nobody ever counted the number of young gay people that suicided. There’s deep deep pain still that comes out of our generation,” he said.
Kate Rowe, another 78er, said an apology “would be very significant to me because it would be a little bit of closure”.
Labor’s spokeswoman for planning, environment and heritage, Penny Sharpe, said the apology had been a long time coming and was well past due.
Tasmania to offer apology and quash historical convictions relating to gay sex
“The tenacity of the 78ers paved the way for three decades of law reform. It will be an important moment in the history of NSW to see recognition of their contribution and an apology for the treatment they received for standing up for what is right,” Sharpe said.
Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich said, “The apology is another step in the progress towards social and legal inclusion of LGBTI people that began on that night in 1978”.
“I hope it helps to heal the scars of those trailblazers who experienced brutality while trying to advance equality,” he said.
The Greens sexuality and gender identity spokeswoman, Jenny Leong, said, “This apology is significant not just because it acknowledges the wrongs of the past, but also reminds us of the need to continue working together today for LGBTI equality and acceptance”.
NSW Parliament May Apologise To Mardi Gras ‘78ers For Brutal Attack
A step closer to equality.
posted on Feb. 26, 2015, at 3:45 p.m.
At a state election forum on Wednesday night, a panel of cross-party MPs unanimously supported an apology to the LGBTI community for police activity at the first Mardi Gras in 1978.
Lane Sainty / BuzzFeed News
The panel, hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, consisted of five MPs from the NSW Parliamentary LGBTI Working Group. Trevor Khan represented the Nationals, Bruce Notley-Smith the Liberals, Penny Sharpe Labor, Mehreen Faruqi the Greens and Independent MP Alex Greenwich was also present.
The 1978 march. ABC / Via abc.net.au
Steve Warren, one of the original Mardi Gras revellers from 1978 and current Coordinator and Co-Chair of the 78ers group, asked the panel whether they would support an apology to the LGBTI people who were arrested, assaulted and publicly outed.
Mr Warren took part in Sydney’s first Mardi Gras on June 24, 1978, where he witnessed friends being arrested and subjected to violence from the police. 53 people were arrested altogether, and subsequently had their names published inThe Sydney Morning Herald, leading to job losses and harassment.
“I would like [the apology] to be worded in a way that highlights the discrimination and injustice to our whole community before and after 1978 until the law changed in 1984,” Mr Warren told BuzzFeed News.
An apology had been discussed over the past decade, but came up in formal discussions recently as convictions for adults having consensual homosexual sex were expunged last year, said Mr Warren.
The expungement coincided with the 30th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexual sex in NSW in 1984.
“Will you support an apology for police activity prior to and during 1978?” asked Warren. The answer from the panel? A resounding YES!
Nationals MP Trevor Khan told the forum the working group had considered including an apology in the legislation to expunge homosexual sex convictions, but were concerned it may overcomplicate and ultimately defeat the vote.
However, Mr Khan, Penny Sharpe, Mehreen Faruqi, and Bruce Notley-Smith (Alex Greenwich had left early) all offered emphatic support for Mr Warren’s proposal going forward. With cross-party support from members of the LGBTI Cross Party Working Group, an apology could well become a reality after the election.
Poster from the original Mardi Gras in 1978. Supplied to BuzzFeed News.
Peter Murphy took part in the 1978 Mardi Gras and was badly injured by police at Darlinghurst Police Station after being arrested.
He told BuzzFeed News “All of the gestures about liaison officers and better officers and better training don’t really wash until from the very senior levels of the government and the police they acknowledge that they did something wrong, they apologize for it.”
It took Mr Murphy about three years to recover from the physical injuries he suffered at the hands of the police. “I was severely battered in the head, bashed in the stomach, knocked to the ground, a very heavy kick in one leg…which meant I couldn’t walk properly for months and months. I suffered lots of concussion symptoms, the trauma, the headaches – over and over.”
A group of 78ers walk across the rainbow crossing at Taylor Square. Steve McLaren / Supplied to BuzzFeed News
Mr Warren has also called for an apology from The Sydney Morning Herald for publishing names and addresses of the arrestees.
Mr Murphy’s name was printed, but he told BuzzFeed News he was okay on this front. “I didn’t have a job, so I couldn’t get sacked!” he said. “All of my friends were supportive, and my landlord didn’t read that newspaper, so there was no issue with the little flat I was living in.”
Neither Warren nor Murphy can overstate the emotional meaning and closure an apology would carry.
“I do realize now that there was no real recovery,” said Mr Murphy. “I am changed by the violence that I suffered, and dealing with the trauma is always hard.”