Homophobic harassment still a problem within Victoria Police ranks, report finds

victoria police Homophobic Harassment homophobia
Photo: Victoria Police

Warning: distressing language

Homophobic and transphobic threats and jokes are still tolerated by some in Victoria Police ranks including senior officers, according to a new report released on Friday.

The report, by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, found a lack of trust in internal reporting processes and “poor management responses” hindered LGBTIQ officers making complaints.

Bystanders were also largely unwilling to call out homophobic language and behaviour out of fear of repercussions, the report found.

One LGBTIQ officer told the commission that a colleague once told him during a group conversation, “All gays should be gassed in the chamber like the Nazis.”

Another officer is claimed to have said gay people “should be taken out the back of the station and shot in the head”.

A gay senior constable said a sergeant pulled him aside on a night shift to tell him he wouldn’t work with a “poofter”.

Another officer said he was called in and told “the roster was being re-arranged because he needed a ‘real man’ on that shift.”

One officer said a leading senior constable once told him, “In my day, we took people like you out the back of the station and beat you with a hose”.

One Victoria Police employee told the commission “there is still a culture of ‘banter’ within the police force”.

“I am often gobsmacked when members, who know I identify as a gay man, still have no issues using phrases like ‘cocksucker’ and ‘knob jockey’ around me,” he said.

Another participant said “many senior sergeants, inspectors and superintendents” were “causing massive personal damage to people” but nothing was done.

“Those who are likely to make homophobic, transphobic or inappropriate comments with regards to one’s sexuality are … masculine males communicating with other masculine males, or ‘old wood’ [who are] otherwise known as old leading senior constables, sergeants or senior sergeants, who have an outdated and old way of thinking,” another said.

‘These attitudes continue to cause harm to LGBTIQ employees’

The Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission interviewed 18 Victoria Police employees and received 32 submissions for the report.

The report was released by the Victoria Police on Friday, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Interphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT).

Chief Commission Graham Ashton says in the report, “I want the Victoria Police that I lead – and the diverse community it serves – to be a workplace that celebrates diversity within its ranks, and supports the community in an informed and inclusive way.

“There is no place for discrimination and harassment at Victoria Police. Those who believe otherwise will be identified and held accountable.”

Acting Assistant Commissioner Lisa Hardeman said the force had “made great strides as an organisation, but know that we cannot be satisfied until every employee can go to work as their authentic self.”

“While the report praises our efforts in recent years towards the inclusion of our LGBTI employees, including through dedicated employee networks and LGBTI awareness training, the review found that homophobia and transphobia was still tolerated in some workplaces,” Hardeman said.

“The report also recognised a number of stations which modelled safe, inclusive and respectful behaviour, including through strong leadership and displaying rainbow flags, a powerful way to show support.

“The report identified opportunities to learn from these stations.

“We know that people who are able to confidently be themselves are better engaged, have increased satisfaction in their professional and personal lives, and provide better outcomes for the people they interact with.”

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton said it was the unfortunate reality that “homophobia and transphobia persist” in some parts of Victoria Police, as in some parts of broader society.

“And, whether through aggressive comments, offensive language, sexual harassment or discrimination, these attitudes continue to cause harm to LGBTIQ employees,” Hilton said.

“Since we commenced our review of Victoria Police in 2015, we have seen some very real evidence of what this organisation can achieve.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the results of their ongoing work to create workplaces that are more safe and inclusive for LGBTIQ employees.”

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