Banning NSW Police from Mardi Gras ‘a step back, not forward’


nsw police sydney gay and lesbian mardi gras scott johnson murder parade pride ban
Image: NSW Police

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby has weighed in on fresh calls to ban NSW Police from Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras after the conviction of Scott Johnson’s killer.

Scott Johnson was found dead at the bottom of a cliff at Manly in 1988. NSW Police considered the gay man’s death a suicide for many years.

However his family always believed it was a gay hate crime.

After a tip from an informant, in May 2020, police charged Sydney man Scott White with murder.

Last Thursday, White confessed his guilt in open court and a judge convicted him. A court will sentence White in May.

NSW GLRL co-convener Jack Whitney wrote in a Canberra Times op-ed he was “moved to tears” hearing of the murder conviction, “a day that many thought would never come.”

“Thirty-three years later, the case that ‘couldn’t be solved’ finally has,” Whitney said.

“The verdict has provided much closure to the grieving Johnson family.”

Community frustration at police handling of case

But he said the verdict has “renewed community frustration in police handling of Scott Johnson’s case, as well as the 40 years of unsolved gay hate crimes alongside it.”

“The decision by NSW Police to rule the cause of death of Scott Johnson was due to suicide was premature and ill-conceived,” he said.

After years of campaigning by brother Steve Johnson, in 2017, a third inquest into Scott’s death heard new evidence and found he had been the victim of a gay hate crime.

“A 2019 parliamentary inquiry into gay and transgender hate crimes between 1970 and 2010, highlighted three other victims of gay hate crimes alongside Scott Johnson – Alan Rosendale, John Russell and Ross Warren – and as many as 80 others, where the police response was inadequate,” Whitney added.

“Indeed, the findings since then found that there was a ‘prevailing acceptance of and indifference’ to violence against gay men before the mid-1990s.

“[This] then led to a failure of justice for victims of hate crimes, like Scott.

“The same inquiry found this legacy of injustice around gay hate crimes still remained and was keenly felt today.

“These ‘pervasive prejudices’ against the LGBTQI community included biased attitudes within the force, as well as continued violence and assault.

“At the time, while acknowledging calls – including from the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby – for NSW Police to formally apologise to victims of gay hate crimes, the inquiry did not recommend that one be given.

“Despite this, the NSW Police Force acknowledged without qualification its acceptance of gay bashings and shocking violence directed towards gay men, and the LGBTIQ community between 1976 and 2000.

“Crucially, they also acknowledged the likelihood of historical bias, whether in small groups or more widespread across NSW Police, of homophobic and transphobic attitudes which created a culture of injustice.

“There is no justification for what happened and in some cases continues to happen.

“Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Banning NSW Police from Mardi Gras ‘a step back, not forward’

In recent years, debate has raged about uniformed police participation in Pride events around Australia, including Mardi Gras.

In December 2020, a majority of Mardi Gras members voted against banning NSW Police from the parade.

Whitney said it was “an understatement” to say the NSW Police and the LGBTIQ community “have had a strained relationship.”

He acknowledged renewed calls to ban NSW Police from the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras after the Scott Johnson verdict.

“This would be a step back, not forward,” he said.

“Mardi Gras has been a place of inclusion, not exclusion. Not to mention the many LGBTQI police officers who want to march in their uniform.

“Visibility, transparency, community integration and accountability are essential when it comes to a successful NSW Police force.

“In that, lies the justification for their presence in the parade.

“In recent years, NSW Police have progressed in their approach to community.

“The LGBTIQ community has an improved, strong and inclusive relationship [with NSW Police]. But we know it can always be stronger and better.”

‘Rest well now Scott’

NSW GLRL co-convener Jack Whitney said the Scott Johnson verdict is a “good outcome” for “any person who has ever felt threatened or at risk.”

“It has shown that the delays in injustice had a home somewhere in the attitudes and culture of the time,” he said.

“It’s put a light on the gay hate crimes of that period. [It] gives hope to other families and loved ones of other victims of gay hate crimes.

“My thoughts are with Scott Johnson’s loved ones. Rest well now Scott.”

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5 Comments

  1. Peter Turner
    21 January 2022
    Reply

    I agree with the Mardi Gras members who voted NOT to exclude uniformed police officers from marching. There will always be those in ALL groups in society who harbour homophobic and transphobic views.

    It is only fair that the progress we have made in relation to our relationship with Police also be acknowledged and that LGBTQI+ members of the force and their allies be allowed to show their pride by marching in their uniforms.

    It is also hoped that less tolerant members of the Police force will see these proud officers and know that they don’t have any approval, tacit or otherwise, to discriminate as they once did.

  2. Bill Gaston
    21 January 2022
    Reply

    Totally agree PeterT. I think the only way forward is to encourage acceptance by everybody. The officers marching are not those who have committed historic crimes. A childish knee-jerk tantrum of exclusion of contemporary officers will not help anybody. Negativity begets negativity. Let’s work towards stopping it.

  3. Cath McLeod
    21 January 2022
    Reply

    I agree with Peter we need to work with the Police and encourage them to want to be part of Mardi Gras.
    Don’t forget many of them are our sisters and brothers in our community and we need to recognise their work.
    Glad to see them in uniform and walking with us!

  4. J
    21 January 2022
    Reply

    I think there should have been a two year ban until is back actually running again on the Streets of Sydney.
    Most police Commissioners need to do more, HATE Crime increase and a Homophobic Transphobic Scott Morrison government isn’t helping.
    “Lest we forget”
    Google the Australian Film RIOT

  5. Wendell Rosevear
    21 January 2022
    Reply

    Treating people how we would like to be treated is the foundation of a safe society. Treating people badly because we were treated badly, delivers a Revenge culture where the past determines the future. Resolution of the past can give Wisdom and Empathy. Let’s choose a future that values all people and the truth as a healing and a prevention of the past. Wendell. “…make Love infectious”.

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