In an historic day, the NSW State Parliament has said “Sorry” to the gay and lesbian community for an assault perpetrated on gay rights campaigners in Sydney in 1978.
Bruce Notley-Smith, the gay Liberal member for Coogee, apologised to the LGBT community on behalf of the Parliament, saying “We recognise that you were ill-treated, you were mistreated, you were embarrassed and shamed, and it was wrong.”
He was referring to the events of June 24, 1978, the day of Sydney’s first Mardi Gras, when hundreds of gay people demanding the decriminalisation of homosexuality marched through King’s Cross to Taylor Square. There they were confronted by police who broke up the march and savagely beat protesters who resisted arrest. Police made 53 arrests. The campaigners who took part in that first open protest have become known and revered among the gay community as the ’78ers.
Mr Notley-Smith told the ’78ers, many of whom were in the gallery to mark the occasion: “You were the game changers.
“For the mistreatment you suffered that evening, as a member of this Parliament, who oversaw the events of that night, I apologise, and I say sorry.
“As a member of a parliament that dragged its feet on the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, I apologise and say I’m sorry.
“As a proud gay man and member of this parliament offering this apology I say thank you. The actions you took on the 24th of June 1978 have been vindicated. The pain and suffering meted out to you on that night and afterwards was undeserved. On that evening you lit a flame for the gay rights movement in Sydney that burned its way to law reform and societal acceptance.
“So ’78ers, I’m sorry … but thank you!”
Alex Greenwich, the Independent member for Sydney, and John Robertson, Labor member for Blacktown, also addressed the assembly expressing their parties’ regret, respect and apologies. Neither the Coalition leader Mike Baird nor the Opposition leader Luke Foley spoke.
Greens MP David Shoebridge told The Newsroom the apology had been a long time coming for the ’78ers.
“They have been deserving of this apology for decades,” he said. “I think when you look back at the history, they stood up to some brutal police violence on that night and I think we owe them a great debt of gratitude.”
A Surry Hills woman who witnessed the apology from the gallery, Jade, 36, told the Newsroom: “Its an incredible inspiration to see what those people fought so hard for – the freedoms what we have now. I’m finding it incredibly emotional and I feel honoured to be a part of it today. Love makes a family, no matter who you are.”
The Sydney Morning Herald this week added its own apology to Sydney’s gay community.
The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Darren Goodsir, said on Wednesday: “In 1978, The Sydney Morning Herald reported the names, addresses and professions of people arrested during public protests to advance gay rights. The paper at the time was following the custom and practice of the day.
“We acknowledge and apologise for the hurt and suffering that reporting caused. It would never happen today. …
“[It] caused a lot of hurt. Some 78ers lost jobs, lost family contact and, over the years, some even committed suicide.”
This year’s Mardi Gras celebration takes place on March 5. – Jesse Mullens
Photos by James Mott.