Apology to Mardi Gras 1978 Participants
(Business of the House, 25 February 2016, Legislative Assembly NSW parliament)
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.
You can read the full apology HERE