BY SARAH MCLENAGHAN
A New South Wales Police review has documented Sydney’s dark history of gay-hate crimes.
The investigation revealed that of 88 suspicious deaths occurring in the LGBTIQ community between 1976 and 2000, 27 were motivated by gay-hate bias.
ACON Chief Executive Nicolas Parkhill said, “These findings are alarming and speak to the extraordinarily high level of violent crimes that were directed to members of our community during this time, often going unaccounted for”.
The review was carried out by Strike Force Parrabell, a group of 10 investigators, who worked over three years to “bring the NSW Police Force and the LGBTIQ community closer together by doing all that is possible from this point in history”.
Of the 88 cases reviewed, 63 were declared solved, 23 remain unsolved and 2 were not reviewed.
The Strike Force Parrabell report documented how gay men were often attacked at ‘beats’ in public parks, beaches and toilets.
This was the fate of 31 year old John Russell who was thrown from a cliff at Marks Park, a known gay beat, in 1989.
The keys of Ross Warren were found on a rock below the same cliff, with his car located nearby and his body never found.
The body of mathematician Scott Johnson was found at the base of a cliff off North Head’s gay beat in 1988.
Mr Parkhill emphasised the ongoing effects of the violence, “This is still experienced today by LGBTI community members who continue to be victims of bias-motivated violence.
“The impact of these crimes, and the associated grief and trauma, hurt both physically and emotionally, and is felt deeply, both individually and communally.”
Samantha Lee, head of the Police Accountability Practice at Redfern Legal Centre (RLC), said these social attitudes continue to impact the LGBTIQ community “Our practice frequently assists with complaints regarding police actions towards transgender people”.
“The “Bash a gay today” graffiti which appeared on a wall in Alexandria just days ago, clearly demonstrates that homophobic violence persists, and is an issue which needs constant vigilance,” she said.
The report made twelve recommendations for future policing, community engagement, training and development of bias crime indicators and processes.
Mr Parkhill applauded recommendations for the establishment of a LGBTIQ conference for police, the development and implementation of a revised system for the early identification of bias crimes, and an expanded Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer Program (GLLO).
Saba Rezae, a Senior lawyer for Sydney Criminal Lawyers, said while the recommendations in the report are “a step in the right direction”, he suggested that an independent review process may be more effective rather than having the police conduct their own investigation.
Mr Rezae raised concerns over the lack of transparency in what factors NSW Police considered in assessing whether a crime constituted an act of homophobia.
“If Police were to conduct this investigation, their limited understanding of LGBTIQ experiences and the fact that they are investigating their own reported crimes, [means] they may not reach objective conclusions.”
Ms Lee shared these concerns, “RLC has long held concerns around that lack of independent oversight when allegations of police misconduct are investigated”.
Following the release of the Strike Force Parrabell Report the NSW Upper House responded with the announcement of a parliamentary inquiry into historic LGBTIQ hate crimes in Sydney.
Liberal party Chair of the inquiry Shayne Mallard MLC said the inquiry would be the “logical next stage” in the process of getting to the bottom of what happened in those dark years.
“I hope that there will be an acknowledgement, from the report, by the parliament, for the community, that this happened, and it was evil, and people turned a blind eye to it, and that we should never let it happen again,” he said.
Labor MLC Penny Sharpe explained how opposing sides of politics were able to come together on this issue, “Getting support across the parliament was about people recognising that this was a very targeted level of violence towards a particular group in our community and we don’t want to see it happen again”.
While Ms Sharpe acknowledged the significance of the report she also said it is important to give those impacted by these crimes a voice, “I hope that it will give a forum for family and friends of victims and some victims to talk about their experience and to seek justice in relation to their issues.
“I think it’s also an opportunity for the parliament to look at the issues in the way that police, but also other government departments, deal with people within the LGBTI community and really look forward to what are we not doing that we should be doing and what recommendations can we make to government for change?”
Commenting on the homophobic graffiti appearing in Alexandria this week, Mr Mallard warned that the issue of gay hate in Sydney is far from resolved, “Don’t think this doesn’t lurk in the dark corners of our society still”.