A “prevailing acceptance of and indifference” to violence against gay men led to failures of justice for many victims of hate crimes in New South Wales in the mid-1990s and earlier, a parliamentary inquiry has confirmed.
The New South Wales parliamentary inquiry into gay and transgender hate crimes between 1970 and 2010, the first of its kind in Australia, was announced last September to examine suspected anti-gay homicides. On Tuesday, the inquiry released an interim report recommending further investigation across the state.
Committee chair, NSW Liberal MP Shayne Mallard, wrote in the report’s foreword that “pervasive prejudices” against the LGBTIQ community within both NSW Police and wider society had impacted on the delivery of justice and protection of victims over several decades.
“Even with legislative change following the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1984, bias attitudes were still being perpetuated within the broader community with a legacy that is still keenly experienced today,” he wrote.
“The ensuing violence and crime against gay and transgender people, particularly in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, was shocking, abhorrent and all too common.
“Amidst this stood a NSW police force and a broader criminal justice system with a culture influenced by the social values of the time.
“This inquiry marks the first parliamentary examination of a distressing time in our history for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community.
“The gay hate crimes, bashings and murders are a dark stain on our city’s past that need to be fully exposed for the sake of the victims, their families, friends and the community in general.”
The full report is available to read on the inquiry’s website here.
‘Legacy of injustice still being felt’
In its report, the committee considered the cases of gay hate victims Scott Johnson, Alan Rosendale, Ross Warren and John Russell and concluded that the police response in all four cases – and others – was inadequate.
The committee found that “a prevailing acceptance of and indifference towards violence and hostility directed at gay men principally during the period prior to the mid-1990s impacted on the protection of and delivery of justice to victims of hate crime,” including but not limited to Rosendale, Johnson, Russell and Warren.
The “legacy of this injustice is still being felt” by some in the LGBTIQ community today, the committee said, and LGBTIQ community members still often fear reporting incidents “founded upon the historical mistrust of the police.”
It recommended that “the NSW Police Force ensure that all officers have the skills and knowledge to engage with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people respectfully and equally.”
“The NSW Police Force has stated it is ‘acutely aware of and acknowledges without qualification’ both the ‘elevated, extreme and often brutal’ level of violence inflicted on gay men and its role in the marginalisation of the LGBTIQ community ‘during the 1970s, 80s and 90s especially,'” the committee wrote.
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Anthony Crandell told the inquiry that “since 1984-85 the NSW Police Force has made slow but steady progress through strong community partnerships, an active engagement agenda, and a growing network of LGBTIQ champions across the force.'”
The Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO) program was established in the state in 1990 and Crandell told the inquiry that since 2013, all police recruits are addressed by members of the LGBTIQ community as part of training.
More inquiry hearings needed in regional New South Wales
The committee also recommended the inquiry should be re-established by the state’s next parliament to resume after next month’s election, with a focus on experiences of hate crime in regional and rural New South Wales to “identify how to best support the needs of this particularly vulnerable group.”
The “isolation experienced by LGBTIQ people in regional and rural communities has the potential to make them particularly vulnerable to crime and even less likely to come forward and seek assistance from the police,” the report read.
The committee acknowledged “that the timeframe for this inquiry has not been sufficient to enable it to travel to regional and rural parts of the state [and] the committee is of the view that rural and regional experiences of gay hate crimes is an issue for further investigation.”
‘Either I do something or I’m going over the cliff’
At one of the inquiry’s hearings in November, Sydney man David McMahon shared with the committee an experience of gay hate violence from December 1989.
McMahon recalled he was jogging in Marks Park, a gay beat, when he encountered a group of 18-24-year-olds who attacked him.
“I remember being hit. I remember being bashed. I remember being told that they were going to put a stick — rape me like that,” he said.
“I remember that a young girl with a green bikini top was the one that was inciting most of the actions that were happening.
“Then I do not remember anything else apart from being about to be thrown off the cliffs … Then I came to, when they were about to throw me off the cliff.
“I thought to myself, ‘Either I do something now or I am going over.’ I just seemed to turn. I had my footing and there was loose gravel everywhere.
“And that is how I got away. And then I ran. They followed me for quite some time.”
Later, McMahon said he went to give a statement to police about the incident but was locked in a cell at the station for almost three hours, despite being the victim.
He later learned the group who attacked him were known as People that Kill or PTK, McMahon told the hearing.
The 1988 death of young mathematician Scott Johnson in Sydney, one of the highest profile cases, was finally determined to be the result of a gay hate attack in 2017 after an unprecendented third coronial inquest.
No evidence or crime scene photographs were taken by police, who treated Johnson’s death as a suicide and closed the case the following day, according to the inquiry’s report.
Johnson’s brother Steve addressed the inquiry and said it was important his brother’s case be solved and the murderer be held accountable.
“I believe it is not too late to solve these cases but time is running out,” he said.
“Bringing justice in Scott’s and other cases will send a more credible message… it would tell the world that the NSW Police Force not only says it believes in equal protection and equal justice but that it can deliver it.
“It could well give a voice to the dozens of other gay men who also deserve justice and whose families would cherish receiving it.”
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