‘Enticed into the bushes’: Inquiry hears police entrapped gay men

Beat outreach worker Ulo Klemmer and a NSW Police van
Images: Special Commission of Inquiry, Nine

NSW Police lured and entrapped gay men at beats in the 1980s and 90s, impacting beat outreach workers’ efforts to fight HIV, the state’s inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes has heard.

The inquiry, the first of its kind in the world, is examining suspected gay and trans hate crime deaths between 1970 and 2010 in the state.

This week, a string of witnesses have given evidence in Sydney discussing the “social, legal and cultural factors affecting the LGBTIQ community” in that period.

Ulo Klemmer (above) worked for ACON for five years as an outreach worker at gay beats in New South Wales from 1989 to 1994.

He recalled an angry meeting with police after two “very, very good-looking” young undercover officers allegedly tried to entrap him.

“Very early on in the job, when I had the ACON car, I went out to a beat to explore whether we should move [our outreach work] further afield,” he told the hearing.

“I went to the beat and I parked the car and two… very, very good looking young men were trying to entice me into the bushes.

“I resisted. They weren’t that good at it. They were very good looking, nonetheless.

“The men approached me in the car and asked me what I was doing there.

“I told them. They took my details and not long after [ACON was] basically summonsed to the police station for a meeting.

“All the police at that station, the head of the police station, [were] very, very angry that [I] had disturbed a police operation. He was furious.”

Police engaged in ‘psychological harassment’ of gay men at beats

Klemmer said police harassment and arrests of gay men in attempts to shut down beats drove gay men underground at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

He said officers would approach people in their cars near beats to take details like name and address and tell them the officers would “be in touch”.

“Whether or not they did get in touch, it was like a psychological bit of harassment,” he said.

“Why would they do that? That person was doing absolutely nothing.”

On one occasion, Klemmer said police monitoring a beat blasted YMCA by the Village People over a loudspeaker.

“I guess it was a bit their sense of humour, or something quirky about the police at the time,” Klemmer said.

But Klemmer said the police harassment made the outreach workers’ efforts to share vital safe sex and HIV prevention information much more difficult.

“We could well have been seen – and we were seen – as possibly undercover police,” he said.

“Therefore people tried to avoid us [and] it made it even more difficult than it already was to approach men.

“They were much more timid, which resulted in them not getting the correct HIV/AIDS information. [This] could only have increased infection rates.

“The police action was counteractive to what we were doing. They didn’t stop, knowing that.”

Klemmer regularly visited beats to reach the gay men. But he said he never witnessed any public sexual activity.

“I think a lot of what goes on in beats is actually just in the minds of people like the press, the police and the public,” he said.

“It wasn’t just for having sex. Some people went [to beats] to meet people without the sex and socialise.”

‘Young attractive detectives employed to act as agent provocateur’

Witnesses have shared accounts of police indifference to violent attacks on gay men in the 1970s and 80s.

Historian Garry Wotherspoon also told the inquiry he’d unearthed evidence of NSW Police “employing young attractive detectives” to “act as agent provocateur” to lure gay men as early as the 1930s and ’40s.

Witness Les Peterkin also told the hearing an undercover police officer lured and arrested him at a north Sydney beat in 1956.

Peterkin recalled a “very young, good-looking fellow in a dark suit” made “signals”, to which he reacted.

“He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said ‘You’re under arrest’,” he recalled.

“I was totally gripped with fear and worry about what effect this charge would have on my career and standing in the community.”

Police accused him of soliciting sex in a public place. But the officers later dropped the matter when he revealed his father was a police sergeant.

But the officers advised him, “Put five pounds in your hand and go to Kings Cross and f__k a woman.”

Peterkin recalled, “I did not ever follow that advice.”

Witnesses urged to come forward with information on gay hate crimes

The NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes, led by Supreme Court judge John Sackar, continues in Sydney.

Investigators have urged anyone with information on unsolved suspected gay hate deaths to come forward to the inquiry. Contact details are on the special commission website.

The inquiry will hold its next round of hearings in Sydney from December 5. The next hearings will focus on the police response to suspected hate violence.

To watch hearings, read about some of the cases and provide evidence to the inquiry visit specialcommission.nsw.gov.au

If this has brought up issues for you, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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