Tasty apology shines a light on a positive future
The apology by Victoria Police for their actions at the Tasty raid 20 years ago marks an historical turning point in relations between Victoria Police and the gay and lesbian community.
RELATED STORY: Victoria Police apologise for Tasty Raid
The events of that fateful night on August 7, 1994 - the abuse of power, violation of rights and breach of trust that occurred when 463 night club patrons were detained against their will and strip searched - have cast a long shadow over the relationship between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and those we entrust with responsibility to “uphold the right”.
The Tasty raid put the issue of homophobia in the police force on the pages of our newspapers and on our TV screens. It spawned an investigation by the Ombudsman and a successful class action against Victoria Police.
Tasty has been described as Melbourne’s Stonewall, lighting fires in bellies, galvanising and mobilizing our community and strengthening our resolve to achieve a world free from discrimination. The raid and subsequent litigation also increased public awareness and scrutiny of police conduct.
There is no question that what happened that night shouldn’t have happened. The Tasty raid became a stain on Victoria Police’s reputation.
However, thankfully the Tasty raid also became a major catalyst in the evolution of the relationship between Victoria Police and the LGBTI community. Over the past 20 years, Victoria Police has worked hard to build our trust and confidence, developing a gay & lesbian liaison officer (GLLO) program, supporting diversity within the ranks of the police force, joining with us to say “No To Homophobia” and joining with us to celebrate community events, such as marching in uniform at Pride March.
This work has been undertaken hand in hand with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities. Police worked with community organisations to develop important cultural competency training for recruits. I think almost every recruit would have spoken to a transgender person as part of the Community Encounters program, for example, and learnt firsthand about what it’s like to walk in their shoes. Police members today understand and respect LGBTI people in a way that we could never have dreamed of 20 years ago.
It means that an organization that was once viewed with fear and distrust has become a key partner and ally in our journey for equality.
So, for the most part, the Tasty raid had receded far into our collective memory, layered over by years of hard work and genuine reform.
However, like the pea in the bed of the fairy-tale princess, a kernel of hurt and distrust remained under those layers of good work. Removing this kernel, and re-setting the foundations of our community’s relationship with Victoria Police, is what happened this week.
Of course you can’t undo the actions of the past with words, but by acknowledging the impact of the events of that evening, the Acting Chief Commissioner has started to heal emotional scars and old wounds still carried by those that were there. She has also paid respect to us as a community, and enables us to transform the way we think about our relationship into the future.
We warmly welcome this moment and this opportunity for transformation. We thank Acting Chief Commissioner for her words and the Victoria Police for the maturity and leadership they demonstrated in saying “we apologise”.
We should acknowledge it takes maturity for an organisation to confront difficult and dark times. By apologizing for its actions at the Tasty raid, Victoria Police has demonstrated that it has matured enough to face the darkness in its past.
It doesn’t mean that it will be all smooth sailing but we can be confident that future challenges can be met with a shared commitment to overcoming hurdles and building an even stronger, deeper relationship into the future.
The newly established Victoria Police LGBTI Community Reference Group will form an important mechanism for consultation, and allow us to continue this conversation, and to address issues such as underreporting of the prejudice-motivated crime and harassment experienced by LGBTI people.
As Shaun Miller said in accepting the apology earlier this week, “twenty years ago a darkened nightclub, where people were dancing and socializing, had the lights turned on courtesy of a police raid. The police are yet again turning the lights on but this time for all the right reasons. To shine a bright light on the misdeeds of the past and then turn the light towards the future of a respectful and constructive relationship between the GLBTI community and the police”.
Anna Brown and Corey Irlam
Co-Conveners, Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby