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Court finds man who vandalized George Michael mural guilty

Court finds man who vandalized George Michael mural guilty

Ben Gittany was found guilty malicious damage on a George Michael mural

A Sydney court today (27 July) found the man who vandalized a popular George Michael mural guilty.

The mural depicted George Michael as a saint, holding a bottle of poppers, a joint and wearing a crucifix earring.

The George Michael mural in Sydney, by Stereogamous and Scott Marsh
The George Michael mural in Sydney. | Photo: Stereogamous / Facebook Stereogamous | Facebook

In November last year, Ben Gittany vandalized the mural after a series of posts were made on the Facebook page Christian Lives Matter.

The Facebook post attracted a litany of comments and threats, with many expressing interest in vandalizing the mural.

Screenshot of threats to LGBTI community
Photo: Screenshots of Christian Lives Matter page / Facebook

Gittany believed this was disrespectful to his religious beliefs and took to the Newtown mural in Sydney’s inner west with a can of black paint.

But onlookers caught him on camera vandalizing the beautiful mural and posted the video to Facebook.

In sentencing, Magistrate Carolyn Huntsman found Gittany guilty of malicious damage and said his religious beliefs were not justification for the vandalism.

She struck down his partial justification due to a perceived offence to his religious beliefs and told the Newtown Court: ‘We live in a pluralistic society.’

Artist Scott Marsh created the mural back in January last year.

He told Gay Star News on the decision today: ‘Its a great result and I’m sure a huge relief for everyone in that local community.’

‘The mural framed him as a saint because he is a saint for us’

A ‘huge crew of queers’ were present at the court today, dressed in t-shirts with the George Michael mural printed on the front.

Simon Hunt (also known as Pauline Pantsdown) was present today and believes the decision is a ‘wonderful outcome’.

He told Gay Star News: ‘Magistrate Carolyn Huntsman noted his actions as having been harmful to the LGBTIQ community; recognized our queer iconography as valuable; and declared art to be a tangible thing.’

Good friends of George Michael and residents of the property (who wish to remain anonymous after receiving ‘heavy death threats’) gave evidence in court today.

One of the residents told Gay Star News: ‘Court today was amazing.

‘We got to address the fact that the mural was our way of commemorating our friend,’ the resident said. ‘How the mural became a place for people to come and both grieve and celebrate George’s life.

‘We spoke to the pain we and our community have been through.

‘This mural was never about attacking religion – it was about honoring our friend and community icon.

‘The mural framed him as a saint because he is a saint for us,’ the resident said.

Same-sex marriage in Australia causes division

The vandalism occurred in the midst of a divisive public debate around same-sex marriage at the end of last year.

Australia held an expensive taxpayer-funded public postal survey on marriage equality, which caused huge debate across the country.

Hunt said: ‘The attacks and murderous threats in relation to the St George mural from the repulsive extremist organisation Christian Lives Matter came at the dirty end of the postal survey.’

Poster of George Michael mural
Photo: Stereogamous / Twitter

The queer resident of the mural also agreed: ‘The post-marriage survey attacks meant, as a community, our safe and sacred space was taken from us with force. LGBTIQA people don’t have our own churches, RSLs or spaces to reflect or grieve together.

‘The ruling today demonstrated that we as queer people are protected by law,’ the resident said.

Hunt concluded: ‘A wonderful outcome at Newtown Court, with wonderful friends all in our St George T-shirts, with well-earned beers afterwards!’

The resident of the mural said on George Michael: ‘I know he’s watching and smiling today.

‘He’s living and burning brightly in so many of our hearts. That can never be painted over,’ the resident said.

Sentencing will come in September.

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