New South Wales Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith has led his state parliament’s apology for the mistreatment the original Mardi Gras protesters, known as the “78ers”, suffered in 1978.
“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,” he said.
“As a proud gay man, and a member of this parliament offering this apology, I say thank you. The actions you took on June 24, 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. 78ers, sorry but thank you.”
That night, hundreds of protesters marched down Oxford Street, calling for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, demanding equality before the law and respect from the community.
The march, which gave birth to the modern Sydney Mardi Gras, headed to Kings Cross where 53 of the protesters were arrested and many more were assaulted by police. Those arrested then suffered public shaming by police, government and the media.
In his emotional speech, Mr Notley-Smith described the shame he felt about his own homosexuality as a 14-year-old on that night.
“As I drifted off to sleep that night, across town there was assembling a group of people, many of them those ‘sick’ and ‘perverse’ people I’d seen on TV,” he said.
“They were about to 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.”
— Sarah Gerathy (@sarahgerathy) February 24, 2016
As many of the 78ers watched on from the public gallery, Mr Notley-Smith said they had described to him the “electric” atmosphere of that night.
“This march was to be different. [Gay activist] 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,” he said.
“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.
“‘Out of the bars and into the streets’ was one of the chants as supporters left their drinks behind in the many venues along the way and joined in.”
Labor MP John Robertson also apologised and thanked the 78ers, crediting them with the strides made in state and federal LGBTI law reform since 1978.
“All of that was achieved by the activism of the 78ers, who set in train … progress so that the LGBTI community could feel that they were genuinely part of the community,” he said.
“Thank you for what you did, thank you for standing up for what was right, and what was proved to be right.”
— Chris Pycroft (@chrispytweets) February 24, 2016