A landmark report from the Victorian Pride Lobby on LGBTQ+ attitudes toward police in the garden state confirms that an overwhelming majority of Queer people distrust police. As it turns out, persecuting people for decades is not a great way to inspire trust.
The report indicates that three out of five Queers in Victoria think that police are generally unhelpful. Even more believe that they make no effort to understand issues that impact LGBTQ+ people and treat Queers with disrespect.
Around four in five survey participants thought that police can’t be trusted to use their powers reasonably and actively abuse them. A still higher proportion feel that police target certain groups unfairly and harass them without cause.
Half of those with direct police contact said that officers acted with hostility and were homophobic or transphobic. Partly because of this, three in four stated they’d be uncomfortable disclosing their queerness to police and feel unsafe when there are many cops at community events.
None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who isn’t a cop. While there’s plenty of historical baggage (e.g. cops enforcing anti-gay laws, entrapping Queers on beats, and raiding clubs… you get the picture), you don’t need to go back that far at all.
Gay officer Michael Maynes committed suicide in 2014 after his peers harassed him relentlessly, allegedly stalking him and searching his name in the police database hundreds of times. While still in the academy, a constable told Maynes that he “had AIDS” and was “going to die alone”.
A coronial investigation accepted that Maynes was put through “unwarranted behaviour” but found that the bullying did not cause his suicide. His father disagreed however, saying the police “started the ball rolling” and that going to work “became torture”.
A few years later in 2019, a report from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission exposed shocking rates of anti-gay sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and an “entrenched culture” of “everyday homophobia“ in Victoria Police.
LGBT staff said that senior officers joked about “shooting homos and f**s”, while others said that “gays should be gassed in chambers”. One Sergeant stated that “they don’t work with f**s” and called LGBT communities “f*****s”, while yet another explained how he would’ve flogged gay staff “back in his day”.
Suffice to say that the Force isn’t the most welcoming place — not that it’s any better for civilian Queers. For example, when police raided Queer bookstore Hares and Hyenas in 2019, officers ripped Nik Dimopoulos’ arm from its socket. His surgeon said that it was one of the worst fractures he’d ever seen.
As you’d expect, nobody was held accountable. The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission found that police did not use excessive force. The head of the Police Union, Wayne Gatt, said he was “proud” of the officers, and the Police Minister Lisa Neville thanked the team for their work.
Then, just last year, officers in St Kilda Station unlawfully leaked photos of trans woman Dani Laidley to tabloids. Earlier this month, officers again shared non-consensual pictures of Ms Laidley, this time with transphobic comments.
Given all this, the Pride Lobby report found that four out of five Queers do not want Victoria Police to march in uniform at Pride. This number is even higher for gender diverse people, with 9 in 10 trans people saying the same.
As one anonymous community member explains in the report:
“The police have shown they are actively transphobic and homophobic, and seeing them march does damage to our community. Many friends are unable to attend their own Pride march because they suffer PTSD from police violence.”
Applying enough media pressure usually makes cops apologise for incidents, though the next one is never far away. Police perpetrate violence against the Queer community and expect forgiveness without tangible change. When someone continues to hurt you, ‘sorry’ tends to lose its meaning.
Police officials love to tout their 400 odd LGBTQ+ Liaison Officers (LLOs) to the media. They don’t say that it only takes one day of training to become such an officer and that there are only two full-time LLOs. VicPol has the largest budget of any police force in the country but, then again, misconduct scandals are expensive.
The Pride Lobby report shows that half of the respondents were deterred from seeking police help after the events above, raising questions about the effectiveness of LLOs. Incidentally, slapping a rainbow lanyard on a few officers does not magically make the organisation Queer friendly.
When they’re not perpetrating violence against Queer people, they’re literally stomping on heads, hosing down disabled pensioners, and letting Aboriginal people die in custody. The question is not why Queer people do not trust the police, since they have good reasons not to. The question is: why does anyone?
Joshua Badge (they/them) is a Queer non-binary writer living on Wurundjeri land in Melbourne. They tweet @joshuabadge.
LGBT people who found this article distressing and would like to talk to someone can call QLife 3 PM to midnight every day on 1800 184 527 or chat to someone online at QLife.org.au.