The New South Wales (NSW) Police Force has issued a historic formal apology to the participants in the first ever Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on the eve of the event’s 38th parade.
The original Mardi Gras was held on 24 June in 1978 to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots.
But in 1978 it was the police who rioted in Sydney, bashing and arresting 53 people after pushing the marchers back into Sydney’s Kings Cross red light district.
Organizers had obtained a permit for the event but police revoked it at the last minute.
The personal details of those arrested were leaked to the media, with the Sydney Morning Herald publishing their names in full – outing them publicly when homosexuality was still illegal in Australia, meaning that many of them lost their jobs.
Collectively those early Australian LGBTI rights pioneers are known as ’78’ers’ and many still march each year in the parade with pride.
Only last week the New South Wales Parliament and that newspaper apologized to the 78’ers and now the police force that manhandled them so badly has followed suit as well.
‘The NSW Police Force is marching proudly this weekend with the LGBTI community as we celebrate this year’s Mardi Gras,’ Superintendent Tony Crandell told a Mardi Gras press briefing this morning.
‘This year’s Mardi Gras does have special significance given the apology delivered to the original participants – the 78ers – issued by the NSW Parliament a week ago.
‘I can tell you that I spoke with our Commissioner this morning – and I have his full support in saying that the NSW Police Force is sorry for the way that first Mardi Gras was policed back in 1978.
‘For that – we apologize – and we acknowledge the pain and hurt caused by police actions back then.
‘We do understand the apology issued by the Parliament was on behalf of all NSW government agencies but we felt it important that the NSW Police perspective is well understood.’
Superintendent Crandell, who is the NSW Police spokesperson on sexuality and gender identity, told the press conference that it was important that people understood that the relationship between the police and Sydney’s LGBTI community has changed in the decades since 1978.
‘I work very closely with the LGBTI community and I understand the depth of feeling about the role of police back in 1978,’ Crandell said.
‘Our relationship these days is healthy, positive and progressive. That wasn’t the case back then. Today’s Force is a very different organization. We are diverse and we’re proud of that diversity.
‘We have come a long, long way. We have had our own journey. Last year we celebrated 25 years of our Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer Program. These officers do wonderful work around the state.’
You can watch Superintendent Crandell deliver the apology below.