NSW parliament apologises to Mardi Gras 78ers

NSW parliament apologises to Mardi Gras 78ers

LAST UPDATED // Thursday, 25 February 2016 15:52 Written by // Cec Busby

It was an emotional day in parliament today as members of the NSW Legislative Assembly offered a formal apology to the 78ers, participants of Sydney’s first gay and lesbian Mardi Gras.

Local Member for Coogee Bruce Notley-Smith rose to deliver the motion which called for formal apology for the 78ers for the mistreatment and discrimination they had faced on that fateful night 38-years ago.


[Image] Bruce Notley-Smith rises to give his motion calling for apology to 78ers

"For the mistreatment you suffered that evening, I apologise and I say sorry," said Notley Smith.

"As a member of the parliament which dragged its feet in the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, I apologise and say sorry. And as a proud gay man and member of this parliament offering this apology, I say thank you.

"The actions you took on June 24, 1978, have been vindicated."


[image] protesters march for decriminalisation of homosexuality

On June 24, 1978  some 500 members of the LGBT community and its allies gathered at Taylor Square to march down Oxford Street in a protest that called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

As the march progressed, its participants grew in number as 100s flocked from the nearby clubs to show their solidarity. By the time the NSW police arrived on the scene to break up the protest, its numbers had swelled to close to 2000 people.

But what began as a peaceful demonstration and celebration of gay pride ended in violence as the show of solidarity was met with force as police and protesters clashed violently when officers attempted to disperse marchers. Many of those in attendance were beaten; many arrested and charged.


[Image] protesters clash with police

Three days later, the Sydney Morning Herald published the names, addresses and occupations of 53 people who were charged with “taking part in an unlawful procession”.

Many of these people were not out at work or to family and colleagues. The subsequent outing of these community members saw many of these ‘78ers’ lose their jobs.

Notley-Smith said on that evening the 78ers lit a flame for the gay rights movement.

“It burned its way to law reform and societal acceptance. 78ers, sorry but thank you...”

It was sentiment echoed by countless members of parliament who rose to speak to the motion and apologise for the part the government had played in sanctioning the brutal treatment of the 78ers.


[Image] police drag protesters into paddy wagons.

Blacktown MP John Robertson rose to thank the 78ers on behalf of his gay son and suggested change can only be achieved through activism. He thanked the 78ers for all they had done but said “while much has been achieved, there is still much to do”.

Roberston also used his time on the floor to call attention to the need for Safe Schools and urged “the young people here to stand up and keep fighting, because right will always win”.

Sydney MP Alex Greenwich made an emotion speech describing the debt that was owed to the 78ers.

“We are all here because of your courage, bravery and sacrifices,” Greenwich said. He suggested the struggles of the 78ers had achieved so much, citing law reforms that passed in wake of the historic protest.

The member of Kiama, Gareth Ward described the 78ers as ordinary people who had become heroes. Ward suggested the Sydney Morning Herald’s treatment of the 78ers was shameful and said the 78ers should feel proud of their actions as they had achieved so much.

“They are the light that would shine in the darkness, Ward said “And darkness could not overcome it”.


[Image] Police gather ahead of the first mardi gras

Greens member for Newtown, Jenny Leong, said the 78ers apology had been a lifetime in coming, but pledged her own commitment to them that the apology in parliament today would be a living apology.

”This is just the beginning of righting the wrongs,” Leong promised.

Leong called for the NSW Police to apologise for their brutal treatment of the 78ers and read for the record a number of victim statements by 78ers regarding their treatment at the hands of police in 1978.

“I have experienced the violence and intimidation of the NSW police firsthand," Leong said. And I have seen friends, colleagues and loved ones treated the same. But there is nothing I have witnessed that goes to the fear, intimidation, and conscious brutality that the 78ers experienced that night."

Attorney General Gabrielle Upton also suggested the incidents that occurred on June 24 1978, should never have happened and said she makes it her priority as attorney general to end discrimination.

Member for Summer Hill Jo Haylen said she was humbled to speak on behalf of the people of NSW in offering her sincerest apologies for the violence experienced by the 78ers.

"For the physical violence at the hands of Police; for the violence of having your name printed in the newspaper, outing you to your families, employers, landlords and neighbours; and the violence of subsequent attempts to erase you from our history. This violence was wrong. It must never happen again," Haylen said.


[Image] Stever Warren speaks at the press conference after the 78er apology

Speaking at a press conference after the historic apology, 78er Steve Warren drew attention to the legal reforms that had taken place since the first Mardi Gras, saying it was a great example of grass roots community action leading to positive social change.

Warren acknowledged many 78ers who have since passed and thanked those who had worked on the parliamentary apology.

Greens MP Jenny Leong has called for the police commissioner Andrew Scipione to issue a formal apology to the 78ers.

[Image top] The 78ers today.


Cec Busby

Cec Busby

Cec Busby is the news editor of SX and online editor of GayNewsNetwork.com.au

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