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Apology To Mardi Gras '78ers Could Be A Reality In Next NSW Parliament

A step closer to equality.

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At a state election forum on Wednesday night, a panel of cross-party MPs unanimously supported an apology to the LGBTI community for police activity at the first Mardi Gras in 1978.

Lane Sainty / BuzzFeed News

The panel, hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, consisted of five MPs from the NSW Parliamentary LGBTI Working Group. Trevor Khan represented the Nationals, Bruce Notley-Smith the Liberals, Penny Sharpe Labor, Mehreen Faruqi the Greens and Independent MP Alex Greenwich was also present.

The 1978 march.
ABC / Via

The 1978 march.

Steve Warren, one of the original Mardi Gras revellers from 1978 and current Coordinator and Co-Chair of the 78ers group, asked the panel whether they would support an apology to the LGBTI people who were arrested, assaulted and publicly outed.

Mr Warren took part in Sydney's first Mardi Gras on June 24, 1978, where he witnessed friends being arrested and subjected to violence from the police. 53 people were arrested altogether, and subsequently had their names published in The Sydney Morning Herald, leading to job losses and harassment.

"I would like [the apology] to be worded in a way that highlights the discrimination and injustice to our whole community before and after 1978 until the law changed in 1984," Mr Warren told BuzzFeed News.

An apology had been discussed over the past decade, but came up in formal discussions recently as convictions for adults having consensual homosexual sex were expunged last year, said Mr Warren. 

The expungement coincided with the 30th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexual sex in NSW in 1984.

"Will you support an apology for police activity prior to and during 1978?" asked Warren. The answer from the panel? A resounding YES!

Question from the floor: Will panelists support an apology for police activity during and prior to 1978? A resounding yes #rainbowvotes

Nationals MP Trevor Khan told the forum the working group had considered including an apology in the legislation to expunge homosexual sex convictions, but were concerned it may overcomplicate and ultimately defeat the vote.

However, Mr Khan, Penny Sharpe, Mehreen Faruqi, and Bruce Notley-Smith (Alex Greenwich had left early) all offered emphatic support for Mr Warren's proposal going forward. With cross-party support from members of the LGBTI Cross Party Working Group, an apology could well become a reality after the election.

Poster from the original Mardi Gras in 1978.
Supplied to BuzzFeed News.

Poster from the original Mardi Gras in 1978.

Peter Murphy took part in the 1978 Mardi Gras and was badly injured by police at Darlinghurst Police Station after being arrested.

He told BuzzFeed News "All of the gestures about liaison officers and better officers and better training don't really wash until from the very senior levels of the government and the police they acknowledge that they did something wrong, they apologize for it."

It took Mr Murphy about three years to recover from the physical injuries he suffered at the hands of the police. "I was severely battered in the head, bashed in the stomach, knocked to the ground, a very heavy kick in one leg…which meant I couldn't walk properly for months and months. I suffered lots of concussion symptoms, the trauma, the headaches – over and over."

A group of 78ers walk across the rainbow crossing at Taylor Square.
Steve McLaren / Supplied to BuzzFeed News

A group of 78ers walk across the rainbow crossing at Taylor Square.

Mr Warren has also called for an apology from The Sydney Morning Herald for publishing names and addresses of the arrestees.

Mr Murphy's name was printed, but he told BuzzFeed News he was okay on this front. "I didn't have a job, so I couldn't get sacked!" he said. "All of my friends were supportive, and my landlord didn't read that newspaper, so there was no issue with the little flat I was living in."

Neither Warren nor Murphy can overstate the emotional meaning and closure an apology would carry.

"I do realize now that there was no real recovery," said Mr Murphy. "I am changed by the violence that I suffered, and dealing with the trauma is always hard."