06 March 2016


How I got my first SMH byline as an act of homophobic intimidation

Freelance writer

As is well known, there are a few apologies floating around over the events, and aftermath, of the June 24, 1978 Gay Mardi Gras in Sydney. First The Sydney Morning Herald, then the Legislative Assembly of the NSW Parliament. An apology from the police force, we are told, will be a “whole of government” decision. I won’t hold my breath.
But I did get my first naming in the SMH in the aftermath of the Mardi Gras violence. My first byline, as it were.
There is a weird disjuncture here. The SMH apology suggests that publishing the names, addresses and occupations of those arrested in the '78 Mardi Gras was, at the time, some sort of “standard procedure”. But that is utter nonsense.
It was simply never the case that the SMH published, as a matter of "standard procedure", the names of the hundreds of people a week arrested in Sydney in those days. It’s complete bullshit.
In the last half of the 1970s I was arrested on a number of occasions over political actions.
Other than June 24, 1978, my name was never reported. Indeed, the SMH (let alone the police) would have looked like proper dills on the occasion that I was arrested, under my own name, with 12 women who gave their names as Emma Goldman. The SMH certainly didn’t report this. The ghost of Emma Goldman would have smiled.
The simple truth is that the publication of names, addresses and occupations at the time was a calculated effort by the police, aided and abetted by the SMH. Each party was aware, at the time, of the effect it would produce on those named. Those effects have been attested to in the last few days by ’78ers, and include the suicide of some of those named in the SMH. An apology from the SMH, let alone the NSW police, should reflect the catastrophic effects of their actions.
Some 13 years later I became a stringer for Fairfax papers, where I worked for a decade, and have filed occasionally since then. I got hundreds of bylines subsequent to first being named in the SMH in June 1978. I am proud of the work that I did for papers such as the SMH and The Age. I was working with some of the best journalists of the day, and the SMH's current editor-in-chief was one of them.
As such, I have no animus towards Fairfax -- far from it. I worked with the best. But the current “apology” from the SMH doesn’t go far enough; there is a back story that should be acknowledged and, perhaps, explored

Apology to Mardi Gras 1978 Participants (Proof)

About this Item
Business of the House

Page: 2

Mr BRUCE NOTLEY-SMITH (Coogee) [10.16 a.m.]: I move:
That this House:

(1) Notes the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras took place on 24 June 1978 when over 500 people assembled at Taylor Square for a public demonstration and march to call for an end of the criminalisation of homosexual acts, to discrimination against homosexuals and for a public celebration of love and diversity.

(2) Notes the march proceeded down Oxford Street to Hyde Park and then along William Street towards Kings Cross and that as the parade proceeded, patrons from nearby venues joined in and participants rose to over 2,000.

(3) Notes Police forcibly broke up a peaceful demonstration, making over 50 arrests.

(4) Notes the
 Sydney Morning Herald and The Age published the names, occupations and addresses of those at arrested, indifferent to the likelihood that those named would subsequently become victims of discrimination and harassment.

(5) Commends the tireless advocacy of the 78ers and their supporters as the upsurge of activism following the first Mardi Gras led to the 1979 repeal of the Summary Offence Act, decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1984 and contributed to an effective community response to the HIV epidemic.

(6) Acknowledges that the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has as its foundation the violence and struggles of 24 June, subsequent and related protests in 1978 and that Mardi Gras now attracts worldwide attention as a beacon of positive social change.

(7) Commends the work done by the 78ers for their advocacy around ensuring discrimination of this kind is not repeated, as well as raising awareness of the events of 1978.

(8) Affirms an ongoing commitment to an inclusive society and full respect for the rights of all LGBTIQ citizens protected in law.

(9) Places on record an apology to each and every one of the 78ers from the Legislative Assembly for the harm and distress the events of 1978 have had on them and their families and for past discrimination and persecution of the LGBTIQ community.

There are doubtless many people across the State today who are feel a sense of anticipation that an event they have long hoped for is finally coming—that a parliament of the people has set aside some of its time to deal with a motion such as the one before us. Equally without doubt, there will be many who believe that I am wasting this Parliament's time. Everybody has a right to their opinion and the best opinions are well-informed ones. Few people know the origins of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and fewer still know what it was like to be gay or lesbian in the 1970s.

Try for a short time to imagine you are a young teenager, a member of a happy, loving—successful even—large family. Your parents shower you with unconditional love, as do your grandparents, aunts and uncles. Your home is always full of people—your brothers, their friends, your friends, your relatives and your neighbours. Your parents' highest priority is your health and happiness and that you will find success in whatever you choose to do—that you will stumble along the way but that they will be there to assist. From those failures you will learn humility and come to understand the value of hard work and persistence, combined with good manners, respect and empathy for others. A good life awaits you.

Imagine that as that young teenager you had a sense that there was something about you. Was it a feeling? Was it an urge? It is something you just cannot quite put your finger on or nail and it has been growing and growing relentlessly for a few years now. It threatened who you thought you were and what was your place in the world. Most disturbingly, it appeared somewhat similar to that affliction suffered by those sick criminals spoken of on radio, seen on television, written about in newspapers, joked about and pitied by all in your world—the homosexual. As a teenager the term "homosexual" sounded so sinister and sick. If it were true, if it was what those feelings actually amounted to, there would be no place for you in the world you comfortably inhabited. You would be expelled from your family, detested by your friends, a criminal to the justice system and a sinner to the church. Life would be over.

On 24 June 1978 those are the feelings that were running through my 14-year-old head. How can I be so sure? Because those were the thoughts that filled my brain all that year, years before and years beyond. That night of 24 June would also have been my youngest brother Anthony's tenth birthday had he not been hit by a car and killed three years earlier. Anthony's death had shaken our family to the core, and made us closer and stronger. So that night the cloak of melancholy weighed even more heavily on my teenage shoulders. So as I drifted off to sleep that evening, eager for sleep to relieve me from this daily torment, across town there was assembling a group of people—many of them those sick and perverse people that I saw regularly on the telly. They were about to set in motion a series of events that would change the course of history and change the way vulnerable 14-year-old boys and girls would value their worth and their prospects in life in the years ahead. I am told by those that assembled in Taylor Square on that cold night that the atmosphere was electric—a march down Oxford Street calling for the end to the criminalisation of homosexual acts, demanding equality before the law and respect from the community. [
Extension of time agreed to.]

But this march was to be different. Ron Austin suggested at a meeting where the march was being planned that participants should dress up in colourful fancy dress—the more outrageous the better. The meeting agreed and a name was suggested. This was not to be any old protest march—this was to be the Gay Mardi Gras. The march set off down Oxford Street and continued into College Street gathering hundreds, maybe thousands, along the way. One of the chants was: "Out of the bars and into the streets", as supporters left their drinks behind in the many venues along the way and joined in the parade. The march took on a momentum of its own and now, too big to disperse, it headed up William Street to Kings Cross. There, hemmed in by the police, the parade turned into a riot. Fifty-three arrests were made and many participants assaulted. It was such a disappointing end to something that started out so joyously.

In the days, weeks and months to come, as those arrested appeared in court, their names published in the Fairfax media, many were ostracised from their family, dumped by their friends and sacked by their employers, not for being arrested but because they were homosexual. For the mistreatment you suffered that evening, as a member of this Parliament who oversaw the events of that night, I apologise and I say sorry. As a member of the Parliament which dragged its feet in the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, I apologise and say sorry. And as a proud gay man and member of Parliament offering this apology I say thank you. The actions you took on 24 June 1978 have been vindicated. The pain and suffering meted out to you on that night and afterwards was undeserved. On that evening you lit a flame of the gay rights movement in Sydney that burned its way to law reform and societal acceptance. To the 78ers I say sorry but also thank you.
Members stood in acclamation.Mr JOHN ROBERTSON (Blacktown) [10.27 a.m.]: I speak with pride in supporting this motion. I do so because today is a significant event for so many. It is important that we acknowledge what happened almost 38 years ago—in fact, three months from now it will be 38 years ago. It is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is what happened on that evening of 24 June 1978. It is important because we should talk about it, particularly for young people. For young people there is almost an acceptance of the rights that exist for people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning [LGBTIQ] community. But those rights, like so many, are hard fought for, and were hard fought for by the 78ers. They were hard fought for on that night that ended in what can only be described as the vicious bashing of so many people who merely sought to stake their claim for equality and to be treated just like everybody else in our society.

Those people stood up at a time when people were bashed because they were suspected of being homosexuals; at a time when it was a legal defence to say, "I was suffering from gay panic"; and at a time when homosexuality was a crime in this State. Those people demonstrated courage and conviction as they stood up and said, "We are people just like everyone else. We love like everybody else and we deserve to be treated just like everyone else." It was at a different time, but that in no way accepts the treatment that was meted out to people at that time or before. As the Parliament apologises to the 78ers, I read in the
 Sydney Morning Herald this morning that it also has apologised. I am not sure how others felt but I felt a slight disappointment with that apology. As I read it, I felt there was some qualification in it, that that was how the media at the time reported those events. To me, the apology did not feel like it was unqualified. I am proud that this Parliament is giving an unqualified, unreserved apology to the 78ers. 

We recognise that change is achieved only through activism and having the courage to stand up. We should be thankful because the 78ers have achieved something significant. I now mention the significant changes that have occurred. The Summary Offences Act was repealed, which was the justification in 1978 for the arrest of the 78ers; the New South Wales Labor Council threw its support behind homosexual law reform in 1980; in 1984 this Parliament decriminalised homosexuality; it recognised same-sex relationships; the Property (Relationships) Legislation Amendment Bill was introduced, which recognised same-sex couples in a whole range of legislation; workers compensation laws were changed; this Parliament made changes to recognise mothers as legal parents of children born through donor insemination; in 2010 the Attorney General announced that the State Government would introduce legislation for a statewide relationships register and introduced a bill that was approved in this Chamber by a vote of 62:9 on 11 May 2010; same-sex adoption was legalised in September 2010, and I was proud to participate in that debate in the other place; and the Federal Parliament removed discriminatory laws against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] community. [
Extension of time agreed to.]

Amendments have been made to 85 laws in the Commonwealth Parliament that have changed the way the LGBTI community is treated, whether it is tax, superannuation, social security, family assistance, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the Medicare levy or aged care. Changes have been made to child support laws, immigration, citizenship laws, veterans affairs laws, employment law and family law. All that was achieved because of the activism of the 78ers who set in train a program for reform to see progress made so that members of the LGBTI community could feel they were genuinely part of our community. While apologising today, I also want to thank the 78ers. I do so as the parent of a son who has had the benefit and the privilege of going to school and feeling free to be who he really is, not having to feel like he has to hide who he is. He was supported by his teachers and fellow students who acknowledged him. They embraced him and are friends with him today, despite what he is.

While much has been achieved, there is much more to do. It is important to talk about this today so that we motivate young people, not only those from the LGBTI community but also young people across our State and nation. Right now there are two things that are disturbing. First, the Safe Schools program is now under some form of investigation by the Federal Parliament. It is sad because the program is about stamping out bullying and breaking down ignorance so everyone can feel that they are a part of our community. It is a program to stop the bigotry that we still witness. My son says there are still parts of Sydney that he does not feel safe walking around. The Safe Schools program is important because it is about making people understand that their ignorance or some jibe yelled out from across the street or down the road makes people feel unsafe and no-one should feel unsafe. Our schools are the right place to implement the anti-bullying programs. We should be proud to support the Safe Schools program. We should be encouraging more people to undertake that program so that we no longer have the ignorance and bigotry that led to the behaviour we saw in 1978.

The second disturbing thing relates to that old chestnut—same-sex marriage. I want my son to enjoy same-sex marriage, if he so chooses. I want everyone, regardless of who they are, to be able to enjoy the benefits that we all enjoy, if they so choose. It will happen, but it will happen only when we talk about what the 78ers did and what achievements they made. We must continue our campaign and our activism on the ground to dispel any ignorance. Ignorance is what has led us to this debate. Marriage is a construct that did not exist in our churches and religious systems until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Prior to that, marriage was a civil ceremony that some people chose to have blessed in a church. It was not until the latter part of the sixteenth century that the churches decided they would get on board and sanctify marriage. It is a human construct and not many people know that. Therefore, people's ignorance of that fact has led us to this debate.

We will continue to campaign on same-sex marriage because it is a great and outstanding injustice for the LGBTI community. The sky will not fall in. Our society will not change for the worst; our society will change for the better. I can say that confidently because in 1978 the same arguments were being advanced: "These people are not normal; if we recognise this, it will all end." Almost 38 years later we have seen where it ends. We have a society that is more inclusive and we enjoy much from some in our community who contribute more than others. We should be prepared to stand up and say that everyone deserves the right to get married, if they choose, but we should not sit in this place and say, "We will decide how you behave and whether you publicly state your love for someone else and have it recognised and acknowledged in a ceremony." On behalf of the Opposition the member for Coogee and I apologise to the 78ers. More importantly, I say thank you. Thank you for standing up for what was right and has proven to be right. To all the young people in the gallery I say, "Stand up and keep fighting. Stand up and continue your activism, because right will always win out."
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Melanie Gibbons): Order! I inform people in the gallery that it is common practice in the New South Wales Parliament that no videos or photographs be taken of parliamentary proceedings. Today we will turn a blind eye and allow photographs to be taken. However, videotaping the proceedings is not permitted. 
Mr ALEX GREENWICH (Sydney) [10.38 a.m.]: I acknowledge the leaders, elders and allies of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] community in the gallery today and those watching this on the web stream at home. I also acknowledge the leadership of the member for Coogee for moving this motion; the Government for prioritising this motion today before the Mardi Gras festival and parade begins; and the cross-party working group, which includes members from The Nationals, the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, The Greens and Independents who have worked together to make this motion happen. Indeed, our Federal politicians could learn a lot from us about working together to achieve important reforms. 

Many 78ers who participated in that peaceful march, which ended in brutality from government agencies, could not imagine back then a day when we would have two openly gay members of Parliament sitting on either side of this Chamber and delivering a formal apology on behalf of this Parliament for what happened to them. Indeed, we are doing that in the oldest, longest-running Parliament in the Commonwealth. The New South Wales Parliament is also the gayest parliament in Australia. It has more gay and lesbian members than any Australian Parliament, with members from the lower House and upper House all listening to the debate today, which is wonderful. We are all here because of the 78ers—because of their bravery, courage and sacrifice. They continue to inspire us to advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] communities and to work towards fairer and more equal laws. Just like the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, our work has at its foundation the pain and struggles of the 78ers. The 78ers have used the positivity of the rally, in which thousands participated, and the trauma that followed to advance fairness and acceptance.

In 1978, being gay had social and economic risks. Parents disowned their gay and lesbian kids, and employers fired LGBTI people. Gay homosexual sex was illegal. There were significant and devastating repercussions for the 53 people who were arrested that night and who had their names, addresses and occupations published in the
 Sydney Morning Herald. People lost their jobs and their families. Barbarella Karpinski, who I believe is here today, was only a teenager when she was arrested, and her outing meant that she could no longer see her nieces, nephews and other family members. Her parents were also maligned for supporting her. [Extension of time agreed to.]

The 78ers report that police targeted women and the most vulnerable. Sandi Banks, who I understand is also here today, described heavy bruising across her chest and arms that lasted for weeks. Laurie Steele, one 78er who was arrested, left Australia soon after charges were dropped in court and did not return until 2006. Many others suffered, and I hope that this apology will encourage more people to tell their stories. I am very sorry that some of the 78ers are not around to hear this apology today. I am proud to represent the inner city areas of Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Kings Cross, which were—and still are—the heart of the LGBTI communities and welcomed gay men and lesbians. But that was not enough to protect them when discrimination was rife and lawful. The brutality that took place on that evening in 1978 on members of the LGBTI community shows what can happen when a society and the law treat a group of people as inferior and, as a result, provide fewer protections. Where the law is not equal, people will always be at risk of being treated as lesser citizens and things can get out of hand, as they did in 1978.

It was not just in 1978 that police turned on peaceful demonstrators; there was a long history of homophobia and violence during the 1980s and 1990s in Sydney. This included gay bashings, hate crimes and murders, with police involved in entrapment, abuse, victimisation and cover-ups. I welcome the work of Superintendent Tony Crandell of Surry Hills Local Area Command for advancing police relations with LGBTI communities. He and police in other inner city commands are building trust by working with LGBTI communities. But that has not always been the case, and that is why we are here today. My good friend Lance Day—another 78er who is in the gallery today—tells me he had a gay friend who was a police officer there that night. The whole thing was too much for him and he applied for a transfer as he was petrified that the force would find out he was gay and would have him sacked.

The struggle of the 78ers has helped achieve so much but I know that those who suffered want this apology to be more than a ceremonial sorry; they want this apology to be a turning point that leads to full equality by the law. I commit to those 78ers and to the LGBTI community that I am dedicated to achieving reforms, including removal of discrimination against LGBTI people, to transgender and intersex reforms, and to marriage equality. I support the motion. As the member for Sydney who represents the area in which this brutality occurred on that night in 1978, I extend my apology to the 78ers and my thanks to them for their sacrifice and courage that continues to inspire me and others to achieve reforms in this place. I thank the 78ers for using that experience to make this State fairer and more accepting of LGBTI people. Again, I am sorry and I thank them.
Mr GARETH WARD (Kiama—Parliamentary Secretary) [10.45 a.m.]: The fight for social change and social justice has often made the most ordinary people become heroes. They were ordinary people until a moment in time changed them; emotions moved them to be more than simply ordinary. William Wilberforce, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Rosa Parks and Charles Perkins all either confronted or experienced injustice and pain. It was these experiences combined with fortitude and character that gave them the tools to be much more than simply ordinary people; it gave them the courage to stand up in order to make the world a more tolerant and accepting place.

On 24 June 24 1978, more than 500 activists took to Taylor Square in Darlinghurst in support and celebration of New York's Stonewall movement and to call for an end to criminalisation of homosexual acts and discrimination against homosexuals. The peaceful movement ended in violence and public shaming at the hands of the police, government and media. When the marchers moved from Taylor Square to Hyde Park, the police confiscated their truck and sound system in spite of a permit being issued for the rally. The crowd began to move towards Kings Cross. Once there, the police swooped in, blocking the dispersing crowd and throwing people into paddy wagons. The crowd fought back and 53 were subsequently charged at Darlinghurst police station. In the words of Ken Davis:
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.

Although most charges were eventually dropped, the
 Sydney Morning Herald shamefully published the names, occupations and addresses of those arrested in full, outing many and causing some to lose their jobs. Protests and arrests continued throughout 1978. On 15 July more than 2,000 gay men, lesbians and supporters took part in the largest gay rights rally that had been held. The police responded by arresting 14 activists. On 27 August gay men and lesbians tried to join up with a Right to Life rally after attending the fourth National Homosexual Conference and 104 people were arrested. In all, 178 were arrested in the Mardi Gras and subsequent protests. The protracted court cases for the arrestees and ongoing protests served to engage a huge number of additional people in the cause of gay rights—galvanising the movement for gay law reform and the right for the community to protest in the streets.

Having been born with a disability, I know what it is like to feel discrimination—to be treated in a manner that falls far short of what anyone would consider acceptable. These experiences remind me that whilst law reform is essential, attitudes must also change. History tells us that so often change is slow and painful, but it does not make the cause any less important. Representing a regional electorate, I know that many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people [LGBTIQ], and particularly young people, still feel isolated, afraid and alone. Tragically, sexual orientation is still a cause for youth suicide, sometimes prompted by the intolerance and callousness of peers and even family. I am sure those gathering in support of equality on 24 June 1978 had no clue about what was to follow on that chilly winter evening, but they should feel proud that their brave actions led to a freer and more confident society. [
Extension of time agreed to.]

Like those who had pioneered social change and progress before them, their actions led to this Parliament acting after many years of discrimination and even vilification. In my inaugural speech in this place I described myself as a classic liberal. I believe in the rights of individuals; I believe in personal liberties and choice; I believe that every person is best placed to make decisions about their life; and today I believe this Parliament owes a deep, sincere and unreserved apology for the treatment of people who could see the light would shine in the darkness and the darkness had not overcome it.

NSW Parliament apologises toMardi Gras '78ers

Thu 25th Feb, 2016 in Local News

New South Wales’ Parliament has today apologised to each and every 1978 Sydney Mardi Gras protester for the ill treatment they suffered almost 38 years ago.

The apology, which was brought forward by out gay Liberal member of Coogee Bruce Notley-Smith, had cross-party support and moved through both houses of NSW legislature without disapproval by any MP.
All MPs present, including Premier Mike Baird and everyone in the packed public gallery, rose to their feet with cheers and applause after the apology was read out. There were tears from some of the ‘78ers present, who had waited a long time for the state to express its regret at what had happened to them all those years ago.

The first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras took place on 24 June 1978 when over 500 people assembled at Taylor Square for a public demonstration and march to call for an end of the criminalisation of homosexual acts, to discrimination against homosexuals and for a public celebration of love and diversity,” the apology began.
The march proceeded down Oxford Street to Hyde Park and then along William Street towards Kings Cross – as the parade proceeded, patrons from nearby venues joined in and participants rose to over 2,000. Police forcibly broke up a peaceful demonstration, making over 50 arrests.
[NSW’s Parliament] places on record an apology to each and every one of the ‘78ers from the Legislative Assembly for the harm and distress the events of 1978 have had on them and their families and for the past discrimination and persecution of the LGBTIQ community.”
The ‘78ers were also officially commended by NSW Parliament for their advocacy around ensuring discrimination of this kind is not repeated.
In June 1978 the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers published the names, occupations and addresses of those who were arrested. The Herald’s now-editor Darren Goodsir apologised on behalf of the newspaper yesterday.
Several MPs and ‘78ers mentioned today that a formal apology by NSW Police for their brutality in dealing with the protestors is also necessary. In particular, the Greens’ Jenny Leong put descriptions of police brutality on the record and noted “an apology from the NSW police has not yet been forthcoming and that is one part of righting these wrongs that must occur.
This is a living apology. It’s the start of a commitment to ensure our laws continue progressing to treat LGBTI people fairly,” she said. “In making this apology in Parliament today, we need to ensure these kinds of events never again repeat, by making sure our laws are equal.”

Out gay Sydney MP Alex Greenwich said he was grateful to the ‘78ers for helping to bring about the changes in society needed for us now to have “the gayest Parliament in Australia.”
We have more gay and lesbian members than any parliament in Australia has ever had,” he said proudly. “And we are all here because of your bravery. You used the positivity of the march and the trauma that followed to advance the rights of gay and lesbian people around Australia.”
After the apology, Labor MP John Robertson rose to mention that he’s proud that his gay son is embraced and welcomed at his school.
Our schools are the place for programs like Safe Schools which breaks down ignorance and bigotry which we had in 1978,” he noted.
So I rise to apologise, and I rise to say thank you. To the young people here, stand up and continue your activism. Right will always win out.”

NSW Government apologises for ill treatment of protesters at Sydney’s first Mardi Gras in 1978

FEBRUARY 26, 201610:48AM

Police violently arresting participants during the Mardi Gras, Day of International Gay Solidarity, June 24 1978. Picture: Ross Macarthur or John Cousins for Campaign magazine / Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives
Benedict Brooknews.com.au
WHEN Steve Warren went bounding out of the pub to join a street party in the heart of Sydney the only thing on his mind was being part of an impromptu celebration.
Yet by the end of the night, he would find himself in the centre of a full-blown riot, listening powerless as his friends cried out, desperate for help.
It had been a great night, and then the police stared grabbing people and throwing them,” Mr Warren told news.com.au. “People were screaming … we didn’t know why they were doing it.”
The events of that night, when police arrested more than 50 people in Kings Cross, allegedly beating many of them, would change the face of Sydney forever.
Today, almost 40 years later, the NSW Government officially apologised for the discrimination they suffered at Sydney’s first Mardi Gras in 1978.
For some, it’s too little, too late and means nothing unless the police themselves apologise for their actions.
Mr Warren was just 21 when he became involved in the demonstration that would lead to Sydney’s now world-famous gay and lesbian Mardi Gras parade, which this year takes over the city’s streets on Sunday, March 5.
It was June 24, 1978 and Mr Warren, who was a budding rock musician, was having a drink after a day that had already involved a rally at Sydney Town Hall to protest against the continued criminalisation of homosexuality in NSW despite, by that time, it being legal in a number of other states.
Morning march for the Day of International Gay Solidarity, June 24 1978. Picture: Ross Macarthur or John Cousins for Campaign magazine / Australian Lesbian and Gay ArchivesSource:Supplied

People were screaming … we didn’t know why they were doing it.’Source:NewsLocal

That night, a group of revellers decided to amble down Oxford Street, then — as it is now — the heart of the city’s gay community.
They were yelling ‘out of the bars, onto the streets’ and a drag queen called Trixie Le Bon led us all down the stairs and that’s how we ended up in the parade,” he said.
It was initially really fun with no dramas, but when we got to Hyde Park, the police confiscated the only float and dragged my friend Lance out of the truck and tried to arrest him.”
The crowd swiftly decided to head towards Kings Cross, where another clutch of gay bars and more people to join the march could be found.
But they were walking into a trap. With hindsight, said Mr Warren, the signs were there. Police cars had been spotted “flying down” nearby streets while some people had remarked that the officers weren’t wearing their badges displaying their ID numbers.
That was usually a bad sign, once the numbers were off people knew it was going to turn ugly,” he said.
Before long, the marchers were surrounded. “The police started grabbing people, pulling them into paddy wagons. Throwing them hard against the metal walls of the vans and slamming the doors, often on people’s hands.
There were people lying on the ground, there were steel bins being thrown left, right and centre, it was pandemonium. It was violent and it really was a riot in the end.
I was young and I didn’t understand why the state was reacting that way to people,” he said.
It was a contradiction, we could walk down Oxford Street, happy and skipping, even interacting with police, but if you left Oxford Street it was a completely different story.”
Mr Warren dodged the blows and headed towards the relative safety of Oxford Street. On the way he passed Darlinghurst Police Station where 53 people, arrested during the march, were being held.
You could hear screams from the police station, people yelling and calling out from inside the cells. There was one person who was bashed by the police, his ribs were damaged and he was all bruised.”
People outside put enough money into a hat for bail to get most of the group out of jail. But the trauma was far from over with the Sydney Morning Herald subsequently publishing the details of those arrested, leading many to suffer harassment and even lose their jobs.
On Wednesday, Fairfax Media apologised for the decades-old coverage.
Openly gay Liberal MP for Coogee, Bruce Notley-Smith, delivered today’s apology in the NSW Parliament. Talking to news.com.au he said the hostility gay people once faced shouldn’t be forgotten. 

Steve Warren was just 21 and in a rock band when he found himself in the middle of a riot in Sydney’s Kings Cross.Source:Supplied

Bruce Notley-Smith, pictured with Coco Jumbo and Krystal Kleer, made the official apology in Parliament. Picture: John AppleyardSource:News Corp Australia
Marching on the street was an incredibly brave thing to do but no one would have expected the parade to end in such violence.
We should recognise the profound events of that night in June 1978 had on the lives of not only those people who were arrested but also the major influence it had on the subsequent liberation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.”
Asked if it would have been an even greater sign of acceptance if the NSW Premier Mike Baird had made the apology, Mr Notley-Smith said it wasn’t for him to dictate who should talk in Parliament.

Mardi Gras is now one of the world’s most well-known festivals visited by stars such as Kylie Minogue. Picture: Dan Boud/Destination NSWSource:Supplied
Many of the cases were later thrown out of court, particularly when TV footage came to light which appeared to show police as the aggressors. A month later people once again marched along Oxford Street and, once again, clashed with police.
When protesters tried to attend a number of the court appearances, Mr Warren said “police barricaded the courthouse, it was just insane what was going on”.
Mr Warren, who, along with the others that marched that day are collectively known as ‘78ers’, acknowledged a number of LGBTI people view the apology as hollow.
For some the apology is too little too late, for some it’s lacking because there is not a direct apology from the police and it certainly doesn’t take away the hurt we went through. But it’s a good first step and it’s important to acknowledge the struggle.”
In a statement to news.com.au, a NSW Police spokesman confirmed the force would not apologise in their own right.
At this time this is a matter for consideration by the whole Government. However, NSW Police has developed rewarding relationships with members and stakeholders within LGBTI communities,” the statement read.
The force pointed to the more than 200 officers that have signed to the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer program.
The protest became an annual rally which is now known as Mardi Gras. Officially backed by the NSW Government, and big name sponsors including Qantas and ANZ, the festival is estimated to pump almost $40 million into the state’s economy.

Steve Warren (second from right) pictured with other 78ers — the people who were at the first Mardi Gras, and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore (third from left). Picture: supplied.Source:Supplied
Homosexuality was legalised in NSW by the Wran Government in 1984. Tasmania would become the last state to do so as recently as 1997.
There were still battles to be fought, Mr Warren said, pointing to a recent spate of gay bashings in Sydney, the opposition to the LGBTI-focused Safe Schools program, and the upcoming plebiscite on marriage equality, “which the government doesn’t even have to act upon”.
As Mardi Gras approaches, we do think back and they’re not good memories but when you start going up Oxford Street it really hits you what we’ve achieved,” he said.
It’s ironic that we had to go through such an awful struggle to lead us somewhere that is really positive.”
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The pressure is mounting for NSW Police to issue an apology to the 78ers – the first participants of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – following an historic apology by members of the NSW Legislative Assembly this morning.
The parliamentary apology follows an apology by Fairfax media for publishing the names and addresses of the 53 people arrested at the protest march on June 24 1978.
Greens member for Newtown Jenny Leong described the parliamentary apology as significant but said there was more to come.
I think it’s clear what we’ve seen today is an amazing step forward – but there is one party remaining that hasn’t apologised – that is the NSW police," Leong said.
I think it was pretty clear from the response in the chamber today that everyone recognises that that is an apology that is outstanding and  I commit to that. We need to recognise that the wrongs of the past need to be acknowledged and that includes wrongs acknowledged by all those who are perpetrators of the violence." said Leong at a press conference following the histioric apology.
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.
I am calling on the NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione to recognise the violence and intimidation perpetrated by NSW police on June 24, 1978 and offer a formal apology to all 78ers for the hurt and suffering caused by the actions of NSW police,” she said.


Sydney Mardi Gras: NSW Government apologises to first generation of protesters

The New South Wales Government has offered an apology to participants in Sydney's first ever Mardi Gras, who were arrested and bashed by police when attempting to parade in 1978.
After they were arrested, many of the protesters had their names, addresses and professions published in the press.
In all, 53 people were arrested and many were savagely beaten by police.
On Thursday morning, Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith delivered the Government's apology.
"You were the game changers."
Liberal MP Bruce Notley Smith
"We recognise that you were ill-treated, you were mistreated, you were embarrassed and shamed, and it was wrong," he said.
"I hope it's not too late that you can accept an apology but also we want to recognise that for all of that pain that you went through, you brought about fundamental change in this society and fundamental change for the many gay and lesbian people like myself, who can be open and relaxed about ourselves.
"You were the game changers."
He continued: "For the mistreatment you suffered that evening, as a member of this Parliament, who oversaw the events of that night, I apologise, and I say sorry.
"As a member of a parliament that dragged its feet on the decriminalisation of homosexual acts I apologise."
The apology received a long round of applause from the public gallery, which was filled with some of the activists who took part in the march.
Former opposition leader John Robertson said it was an important moment.
"Because we should talk about it, particularly for young people," he told parliament.
"For young people, there is almost an acceptance of the rights that exist for people from the LGBTIQ community."
Mr Robertson noted that the Sydney Morning Herald also apologised for its coverage but he expressed disappointment at its wording.
He said the Herald's apology did not seem to be unqualified.

'I thought I was going to die'

In just over a week, Sydney's world famous Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will once more turn parts of Sydney into a celebration of diversity.
But almost four decades ago, things got off to a very different start.
Peter Murphy was 25 and still struggles to speak about what happened the night after he was thrown into a police van and taken back to the Darlinghurst police station.
"I was singled out and bashed, thoroughly. There were just two police present and only one of them beat me," he said.
"He would have kept going, except the other guy finally said stop.
"So I was convulsing at the time he said 'stop'. I thought I was going to die."
Diane Minnis was 26 at the time, a part of the gay solidarity group.
She described the police as "whaling in" on the that first group of marchers, who became known as the "78ers".
"They were huge blokes and they were just grabbing people, throwing them bodily into paddy wagons and smashing people.
"It was carnage."
After the mass arrests, Ms Minnis joined a large group of people outside the Darlinghurst police station.
"We sang 'We Shall Overcome' and people that were inside said they could hear it and it gave them some courage.
"But what we didn't know is how badly Peter Murphy was bashed in the cells at that stage."
Sally Abrahams from Yamba in northern NSW was in Sydney in 1978.
She entered several gay nightclubs after the melee broke out and asked for the music to be turned off so she could call for help over the loud speakers.
"I was determined not to be arrested, but my girlfriend at the time, I watched her being bashed and thrown into the back of a paddy wagon," she said.
"I announced what was happening at the nightclubs and asked if there were any lawyers to come and please help us, because there were people being beaten up and harmed, and there were quite a few people who came with me.
"It's worth noting that all of the charges were eventually dropped against everybody because we didn't do anything wrong, it was the police's behaviour that was terrible."
Writer David Marr said he went to the court on the Monday morning following the arrests, which had been barricaded by police despite orders from the magistrate to let the public in.
"It was a wild day on the Monday as well as on the Saturday night," he told 702 ABC Sydney.
"The coppers hated the poofs, they hated them. And they hated the lesbians perhaps even more than that."
Marr, who wrote extensively on the events of that weekend, said the police used paddy wagons to encircle the last of the marchers before beating and arresting them.
"They grabbed the woman by their breasts, by their hair...they dragged them along the road by their hair," he said.
"It was the first bit of gay journalism I did and I was terrified even at that."

Police made reform inescapable: David Marr

Mr Marr said that reform, including the legalisation of sexuality, became inevitable after that weekend.
Sydney "could not believe the hate that was in the air that night."
"When the police overstep the mark, they make reform inescapable," he said.
Peter Murphy said he thought the speech and apology was a good step, but it could have gone further.
"The police are only mentioned once," he said.
"It is very important that Parliament makes this statement.
"I'm hoping that this will lead to the police command also making a whole-hearted apology for what took place in 1978, so that we can move past what's clearly a sort of official intolerance of homophobic attitudes in the police force.
"And we will change that culture."

How the beatings and humiliations of the 1978 Sydney Mardi Gras made reform inescapable

An overdue apology is to be debated in NSW parliament for the violence of that night. But we should thank the police, writes David Marr, because their zeal and brutality were so out of kilter with the city’s attitudes, they spurred it to action
he steam had gone out of Mardi Gras by the time the parade reached the El Alamein fountain in Kings Cross. For an hour or so a couple of thousand gays and lesbians, their friends and civil libertarians, had marched throughSydney on a midwinter night calling for freedom. Now it was time for a drink.
But the police had other ideas. As the marchers began to disperse, they found their way blocked by a fleet of paddy wagons. Bashings and arrests began.
A riot outside New York’s Stonewall Bar a few years earlier had kicked fresh life into gay law reform in America. On this night in June 1978, Stonewall was happening all over again in Sydney’s Darlinghurst Road.
On Thursday an apology is to be debated in the New South Wales parliament this week for the violence of the police that night. About time. But we should thank the cops, too, because their zeal and brutality were so out of kilter with the city’s take on gay life they made reform in New South Wales inescapable.
I wasn’t on the march – I’m not one of the honoured “78-ers” – but I was at the court that Monday to find the witnesses I needed to do what we did on The National Times in those days: write a big narrative of what happened in the hours after a happy crowd chanting “Out of the bars and into the streets” set off down Oxford Street behind a truck at 10.30 pm.





State MPs to apologise for mistreatment of first Sydney Mardi Gras marchers

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I’ve been back to my notes. They are better than the story I wrote nearly 40 years ago. Names swim out of the past. Aids has claimed some of these warriors. A few of the lawyers on the streets that night are coming to the end of their time as judges in NSW and federal courts. Some of the braver souls on the march have escaped respectability. We’re all getting old.
Revellers poured out of the bars. The police hurried them all down the road. Within 20 minutes they had reached Hyde Park where the police permit issued for the march decreed the demonstration had to end. It was too soon.
The park filled with people expecting speeches but wishing for a concert. The police were having neither. They ordered the truck and its loudspeakers to drive away. The driver refused, was dragged out and fled into the crowd. The police ripped out the speaker leads.
As the first arrests were made the crowd began chanting, “Stop police attacks on gays, women and blacks.” It was an old favourite. Once the loudspeakers were disabled, the crowd was left to make up its own mind – by chanting. A chorus began: “March to the Cross. March to the Cross.”
This was an action with only one purpose: to make arrests
On William Street happy bravado was restored. The ruckus round the truck was forgotten. It was party time again. People left the footpaths to join the happy procession. “Ho-ho-homosexual,” chanted the marchers. Also a new favourite: “Dare to struggle, dare to fight, smash the Festival of Light.”
Word somehow swept through the crowd that their destination was now the El Alamein fountain. It made sense. The fountain is the bullseye of the Cross. But even before they arrived, there was a sense that the night was over. Old timers sang mournfully, “We Shall Not be Moved”. People broke off to buy ice creams.
But about midnight the paddy wagons moved into place, their sirens blaring. The marchers were packed tight in a stretch of Darlinghurst Road with no way of dispersing. This was an action with only one purpose: to make arrests. Police removed their badges and began grabbing people.
In the melee of the next half an hour the demonstrators were joined by locals, drunks and a couple of bikies. The queers fought back. “Police were using fists and boots,” one of the marchers, Jeff McCarthy, told me. “Beer cans were being thrown, full ones from the back of the footpath, bottles of Spumante, shoes, at least one garbage can from each side of the road.”

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There was screaming and crying. McCarthy saw a policeman kicked in the balls. “Someone was thrown half into a van, landed on his stomach on the edge of the door, then police slamming the door on his legs.”
Several witnesses confirmed that incident and widely shared was McCarthy’s impression that the police were particularly targeting women. “They seemed to make their attacks especially sexual,” McCarthy said. “Women were dragged along by the hair … One woman was grabbed by the tits. She called, ‘Let go of my tits’ and was charged with offensive language.”
Paddy wagons ferried the arrested to the nearby Darlinghurst police station followed by several hundred marchers who took up a vigil in the street. This was the headquarters of the notorious No 3 Division that policed gay Sydney. There was antagonism of long standing between this station and that community. Darlinghurst police frankly regarded homosexuals as criminals.
More demonstrators were arrested. Heads connected with paddy wagon mirrors. Three big constables dragged a woman into the station by the hair.
Inside, police refused for hours to bail any of the 50 prisoners. Peter Murphy was the first to emerge at about 4am. He had been bashed in the cells. Dr Jim Walker told me: “Murphy had bruises of the head, ribs, stomach arms and legs. His lower leg was particularly swollen to twice its normal size. I suspected a broken fibula.”
Murphy was taken to St Vincent’s hospital.

 Some of the 1978-ers marching in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2008. Photograph: Jane Dempster/AAP
Helping bail the men was Barbara Ramjan. It was nearly a year since the dramatic night of her election as the president of the Sydney University Students’ Representative Council, the night the man she beat, Tony Abbott, punched the wall beside her head.
Now she was dealing with bewildered students, obstructive police and tearful gay solicitors. The last of the men bailed about 8.30am on Sunday morning complained of a busted eardrum after being bashed in the police garage.
For no particular reason except to prolong their ordeal, the women prisoners had been removed to central police station. There they were very, very slowly fingerprinted. The last of them was not released until 9.30am.
That night on television, the then NSW premier Neville Wran claimed the demonstrators had had “a pretty good go … and I don’t suppose that it’s unexpected that the police have taken exception to a busy thoroughfare in Kings Cross being completely blocked off at midnight.”
All those charges were eventually dropped. Police commanders were shown to have lied in court
That was a signal to police. Next morning in a cold drizzle up to 150 officers blockaded the steps of the Liverpool Street courts. There followed a battle that lasted most of the day between police and the magistrates to allow access to the courts. Despite order after order from the magistrates, the police declared: “The courts are closed.”
The crowd grew restive. Eggs were thrown. Three women who tried to climb over a high balustrade were tossed back into the crowd. There were more arrests. A police photographer shot rolls of film. Solicitors were threatened.
A magistrate ordered Ramjan to be allowed into the building to bail the new prisoners. I watched police push her down the stairs instead. She somehow kept her footing. After all these years she puts that down to “Girl Guide training”. She made it into the building at last.
Soon after lunch, the police gave way. They’d made their point. The public entered to watch the magistrates grind through formalities: one charge of malicious injury to a police uniform, three charges of assault, four of offensive behaviour, five of failure to observe a direction, nine of resisting arrest, 10 of unseemly words, 18 of hindering police and 19 of unlawful procession.
All those charges were eventually dropped. Police commanders were shown to have lied in court. Protests continued all through that winter. It was at this time that a cohort of young solicitors came out. The law was at last seen for what it has always been: one of the great gay professions.
Mardi Gras became a great Sydney event, at first commemorating that 1978 shemozzle. But in an absolutely Sydney development, it shifted from winter to summer to celebrate itself – and to keep calling for law reform. It was 1984 before Wran stared down the churches and the Catholic flank of the Labor party to decriminalise gay sex in NSW.





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The police changed. This year the NSW police gay and lesbian liaison officers will march in Mardi Gras as they have done for the past 20 or so years. Bill Shorten will be among the squad of politicians turning out for the celebrations.
And as a curtain-raiser this week the NSW parliament will debate an apology for 1978 and what Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith calls “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”.
Ken Davis, one of the organisers of the first march is weighing up whether to attend the ceremony. He welcomes the apology after all these years but wonders where we are on the bigger question of freedom in a city of lockout laws and harsh bans on processions.
We got law reform,” says Davis, “but police control of public life is much more extensive now than it was in 1978.” 

Friday essay: on the Sydney Mardi Gras march of 1978

The Conversation February 19, 2016 6.18am AEDT
The 1978 Mardi Gras started as a peaceful march and degenerated into a violent clash with police. The Pride History Group
English for Academic Purposes Specialist, Anthropologist, Centre for English Teaching, University of Sydney
Disclosure statement
Mark Gillespie is affiliated with The '78ers.

On April 27, 2015, Christine Foster, a Liberal Party councillor and the sister of the then Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, moved a motion at the Sydney City Council calling for a formal apology to the original gay and lesbian Mardi Gras marchers.
It was passed unanimously. The NSW Parliament is expected to debate a motion to offer such an apology in the first sitting of Parliament in 2016.
Is a formal apology warranted?
To answer this question, some understanding of the prevailing oppressive social conditions affecting the lives of sexual minorities (now termed GLBTIQ communities) in Australia in the 1960s and 70s is required.
What is needed, too, is a better knowledge of the actual, momentous events that took place in Sydney between June and August 1978, when violent social unrest and public protests on the streets erupted with far-reaching effects for Australia that can now be seen in historical context.
The march of 78
On a cold Saturday night in Sydney on June 24, 1978, a number of gay men, lesbians and transgender people marched into the pages of Australian social history. I was one of them.
Several protests and demonstrations were organised during June that year to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York and to demand civil rights for Australian lesbians and gay men.
Gay activists in San Francisco had asked the Gay Solidarity Group in Sydney for support in their campaigns in California and the word had got out. At Taylor Square, where we assembled, I was impressed by the turnout (a report in The Australian estimated the crowd at about 1,000 people at this early stage of the night).

Marchers at the 1978 Mardi Gras parade. The Pride History Group, Author provided
The early rainbow nature of the movement was evident, with transgender and Aboriginal people and people from migrant backgrounds all mixing in. We were a diverse and spirited group of a few hundred mostly younger men and women ready to march down Oxford Street to Hyde Park, along a strip that was becoming the centre of gay life in the city.
The atmosphere was more one of celebration than protest. Little did we know then that, by the end of the night, many of us would be traumatised and our lives changed forever.
As a young émigré in my twenties, from the Queensland bush, like many gay men and lesbians from the country in those days, I was, in effect, an internally displaced person. We were refugees in our own country.
Having arrived in Sydney seeking refuge from the never-ending police state of mind that was life under the Joh Bjelke-Petersen Queensland government, I was renting a studio flat in Crown Street, Darlinghurst, at the time.
All through history, cities have offered people like me a measure of escape from oppression and persecution. But in 1978, even in a big city like Sydney, refuge and security could not always be found and, without even basic human rights, we were always vulnerable.

The 1978 Mardi Gras parade. The Pride History Group, Author provided

As a high school teacher working for the NSW Department of Education, “coming out” posed a major risk for me – it could mean the loss of my job. For the those who were subjected to electric shock treatment in the 1970s at the old Prince Henry Hospital in Little Bay, it could even mean losing your mind.
Living a “double life” was a means of survival. Gay people’s lives were wrapped in stigma and shame.
The real unspoken tragedy of the times was the loss of the lives of so many wonderful young people who struggled with their sexual identities and, unable to deal with all the pain and shame inflicted on them, ended up committing suicide.
The Stonewall Riot, which had occurred nine years earlier, far away in Greenwich Village on Manhattan in New York, marks the modern era of “homosexual liberation”. This oft-quoted term was popularised as early as 1971 by Dennis Altman, the Australian academic who became a leading voice of the movement.
Altman continues today to chronicle and interpret the movement. The violence, unrest and resistance of the Sydney Mardi Gras of 1978 has clear parallels to Stonewall.
Back to the march
We started off from Taylor Square in a festive mood. Chants rippled along the marchers, strangers joined hands and we sought to bring people out of the bars and into the streets to join us. Some did come out of the bars and joined us; others lined up and watched the parade but did not join in.
I heard the commonly used Australian put-down of those times, “poofters”, hurled at us. “Ratbag poofters”, too. When we reached Hyde Park we were denied entry.
Confusion reigned and an officer in authority appeared intent on breaking up the march. His derogatory tone of voice and the way he hurled insults and abuse angered all within earshot.

Police and marchers met in the 1978 Mardi Gras. The Pride History Group, Author provided

It soon became clear that our open-back truck that would have provided the disco music for a party and a platform for speeches in the park was to be forcefully confiscated and the driver arrested. We then realised it would be a mistake for us to enter Hyde Park at all.
At the front of the march I remember a few split seconds of initial doubt that we would be able to do it, and then, in perfect, bold, spontaneous unison, at our success in breaking through the cordon of police across College Street, we shouted, “On to the Cross!” (Kings Cross).
With an exhilarating surge of energy we turned from College Street into William Street. Propelled onwards with hundreds joining in behind us, we turned left into Darlinghurst Road into the heart of Kings Cross. We were sick and tired of being criminalised, pathologised, demonised, of being made to hide who we were and having our rights to live as human beings denied.

The 1978 Mardi Gras The Pride History Group,Author provided

That night we were in the streets and we were determined to get our message to as many people as possible. After marching down Oxford Street and seeing our numbers swell as many people came out of the coffee shops, bars and hotels to join us, now we wanted to call on everybody in the Cross to listen to our chants and come out and support us as well. We chanted: “Out of the bars and into the streets!”
We wanted the whole world to hear our cries for freedom from the oppression that characterised our lives. In numbers, suddenly, wonderfully, we were unafraid. Here there was a direct parallel with Stonewall, for as with the NYPD, the NSW police force faced an unexpected and vigorous resistance.
As determined as they were to put us back in our closets there was no stopping us. Now we were coming out. And now we had straight people willing to join in and support us. In Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross we were cut off and ambushed with hundreds of police with dozens of wagons blocking us in front and from behind.
These were critical moments, because in truth the crowd would most likely have dispersed at this point.
Yet the real violence was about to begin. It was there in Darlinghurst Road that we faced the most brutal onslaught of the whole night. The police, arriving in numbers, took advantage of the semi darkness of the night, unleashing a reckless and ugly attack on the marchers.
They acted as if they had a licence to inflict as much injury as they could and I feared there would be dead bodies everywhere if they had guns in those paddy wagons and were to open fire. Despite that fear we did not run, we fought back, resisting arrest as the police wielded their heavy batons indiscriminately.

The Pride History Group, Author provided

The more we were assaulted the more we resisted. The group-solidarity had taken hold as we tried to stand our ground, rescuing “brothers” and “sisters” from the clutches of the police as they were being forced into paddy-wagons. I distinctly remember the way that the police near the El Alamein Fountain targeted women for arrest, in particular, and the smaller and more vulnerable among us.
The first Mardi Gras is often described as a riot but I didn’t see it that way. It was a very defiant act of resistance that proved a turning point. We were willing to stand up, to resist. We were people too; our sexualities may have been diverse and different but that did not make us any less human than others.
The discriminatory attitude of the police and the violence they meted out to us seemed to represent in highly symbolic and condensed form the very pain, humiliation and suffering that society as a whole constantly inflicted on us as lesbians and gay men.

The 1978 Mardi Gras parade. Author provided

Some 53 men and women were arrested, all of whom – unhelpfully – had their names and occupations subsequently published in The Sydney Morning Herald. Many lost their jobs or housing as a result.
Gail Hewison, one of the women detained, described to me the whole experience of being locked-up without charge as one of shock and trauma. She had all her possessions taken away from her including her glasses. She told me she could hear the sounds of a man being horribly beaten in another cell. Then, after a while she also began to hear the supportive chants of the crowds gathering outside.
In front of the police station, close to Oxford Street and Taylor Square where the march had started hours earlier, battered and bruised, hundreds of us gathered in an enraged state shouting, “Let them free!”. We continued the refrains from our earlier chants:
Two four six eight, gay is just as good as straight!
Looking out at the angry crowd the police inside the station must have been apprehensive about what would happen next. They were greatly outnumbered and for some moments as we inched closer and closer, you could sense an urge on the part of the crowd to takeover the police station, to demand the jailers keys and so to release our brothers and sisters.
Over the years I have often wondered why we didn’t storm the building then and there. Strangely after a short period of silence somebody started to sing the Afro-American spiritual “We shall overcome” and the whole crowd joined in:
We shall not, we shall not be moved
We shall not, we shall not be moved
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We shall not be moved

Reflecting on this now I would like to think that, despite the provocation on that night itself and the centuries of violence that had been perpetrated upon us, we as a collective knew instinctively that violence was one of our main grievances and we had a mission to resist it and fight against violence using other means.
Someone in the crowd cried out, “I am a lawyer. Are there any other lawyers or solicitors here? We need to raise bail money!”. The campaign to win the legal battles was now well underway, culminating in 1984 when homosexuality was decriminalised in the NSW Parliament.

The 1978 Mardi Gras parade. The Pride History Group, Author provided
This brief narrative of the first Mardi Gras is told because the events of that night, their causes and repercussions can now be placed in clearer historical perspective and they help us to understand why keeping politics at the centre of the annual Mardi Gras is so important.
Facing the HIV epidemic
As Dennis Altman pointed out in The End of the Homosexual? (2013), it was the precise timing of the Mardi Gras leading to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW in 1984 that ultimately helped save thousands of Australian lives in the HIV epidemic that hit Sydney hard in 1985.
The epidemic could only have been handled as effectively as it was because decriminalisation and critical bi-partisan cross party political support resulted in more openness and less stigma.
The old days of identity politics are now gone and labels are eschewed in these times where the fluidity of sexuality is recognised and better understood. But the struggle is not over. In 2013 we witnessed the arrest of a young teenager at the Mardi Gras parade who was assaulted and abused in ways reminiscent of 1978. Again the police were not held accountable for their actions.
Young people are still ending their lives because of the pain and homophobia they experience. If there is a timely lesson for the police here it is in the need for an authentic engagement with minority groups where honesty and respect replaces suspicion and contempt.
So at the same time we celebrate just how far GLBTQI people in NSW have come with dramatically improved community attitudes and we not only welcome but applaud a contingent of the NSW Police Service marching in the annual parade, we need to resist attempts to whitewash our history and we need to make sure we do not lose the memories of our earlier struggles.

A police officer dances in the 2015 Mardi Gras parade. Jason Reed/Reuters
The motion at Sydney Town Hall earlier in 2015, calling for an official apology to the 78ers for the violence of that June night in 1978, was strongly supported by out-lesbian elder and Deputy Lord Mayor Robyn Kemmis, who recently died.
We owe a debt to her work and that of people such as Steve Warren, one of the original 78ers who has worked tirelessly for an apology. That Sydney City Council action has prompted a small bipartisan group of NSW State parliamentarians to take up the call for an official apology.
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.
We welcome anyone who participated in the 1978 Mardi Gras with an interest in the apology to contact the 78ers committee or the Pride History Group. If you are in Sydney for the Fair Day in Victoria Park on Sunday February 21, come our tent and talk to us.
In the current international climate with the re-emergence of fascist threats from all sides there are too few places in the world that offer the hope of this kind of open society. Sydney, and Australia more broadly, could represent this kind of inclusive society. It will be a society where the role of the police shifts from suppressing the rights of minorities to protecting and even championing them.

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Preston, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm