With Sydney’s 38th Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras kicking off its string of official events tonight, ahead of the annual, glorious collection of magnificence that is the Mardi Gras Parade next weekend, the NSW State Parliament has today taken an historic step forward, by righting a wrong committed way back at the beginning.
On June 24th, 1978, a crowd of 500 people gathered in Darlinghurst‘s Taylor Square in peaceful protest of the equal rights movement for LGBTQI people in Australia. As day turned into night, the revellers began a march down towards Hyde Park, gathering people from venues along the way, as the crowd swelled to around 2,000.
But despite having a permit for the march and protest, NSW Police began funnelling the crowd out of the street. And as the masses began dispersing and entering Kings Cross, the crackdown began. Scuffles and violence between police and protesters erupted, and 53 arrests were made on the night.
Despite most of the charges being dropped by authorities, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age published the names, occupations, and addresses of those who were detained, with little apparent regard for the consequences of doing so. The 53 who were “outed” were subject to harassment, violence, and in some cases lost their jobs.
This black night in Australia’s long-running battle for equal rights became the first incarnation of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras; an event that subsequently grew into the largest celebration of individual sexuality in the country.
In the years following the first fateful night on Sydney’s streets, the movement and support of the LGBTQI community from the public grew exponentially – particularly within NSW from people who witnessed the violence committed by police and were appalled.
As a result of growing public pressure, the state government responded by first removing homosexual acts from the “obscene behaviour” section of the Summary Offences Act, and then ultimately formally decriminalising homosexuality in 1984.
Nearly 40 years since the initial act, the official record is – at long last – being amended to formally apologise to the 53 people unjustly wronged by both the Police, the Government, and the media.
yesterday issued a formal apology
for publishing the names, addresses, and occupations of those who were arrested on that night, as well as publishing the information of more than 100 people arrested in previous pro-equality rallies.
And today, on the first day of the 38th Mardi Gras, the New South Wales State Parliament followed suit.
The Liberal Government today introduced a formal apology into Parliament, as members of the 78ers looked on from the public gallery.
The motion acknowledged the first iteration of the Mardi Gras, acknowledged that police forcibly broke up what was otherwise a peaceful demonstration, acknowledged that the press erred in publishing people’s information, acknowledged the tireless activist work of the group in the ensuing years, and formally – and unreservedly – apologised to each and every individual involved, as well as to the LGBTQI community as a whole, for past discrimination and persecution.
Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith, the first openly gay member of the NSW Legislative Assembly, delivered the formal Parliamentary apology earlier today.
The apology was met with rapturous applause from the public gallery, many of whom shed tears of relief at the motion.
The 38th Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras kicks off its festivities this evening with a show from Tina Arena at The Harbour.
Photo: State Library of NSW/Twitter.