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Apology to Mardi Gras 1978 Participants (Proof)
About this Item
Business of the House
Mr BRUCE NOTLEY-SMITH (Coogee) [10.16 a.m.]: I move:
(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:
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 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.
NSW Government apologises for ill treatment of protesters at Sydney’s first Mardi Gras in 1978
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
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PHOTO: 53 people were arrested during the first 1978 protest which grew into the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.(Photo: Fairfax media)
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