I am grateful and humbled to speak on this historic apology to the ‘78ers.
I’m grateful to have the opportunity to express my thanks and respect to those gathered here today in the gallery;
And I’m humbled to speak on behalf of the people of NSW in offering my sincerest apologies for the violence you experienced –
- For the physical violence at the hands of Police;
- For the violence of having your name printed in the newspaper, outing you to your families, employers, landlords and neighbours; and
- the violence of subsequent attempts to erase you from our history.
This violence was wrong. It must never happen again.
This apology is a step in that direction and I must acknowledge the work of the Cross-Party Working Group for LGBTIQ for working so hard, across partisan lines, to make this apology possible.
Thinking about today’s apology, I spoke to a young man about the ‘78ers and his experience of being gay.
“Where are the warriors?” he asked, quoting an author.
Where are the generations of elders that came before him and fought for him to live openly and truly?
He noted that for many young LGBTI people, there is a sense of disconnection from their own history, a lack of understanding about how things were before.
A sad reality is that this is due in part to too many having died from suicide or AIDS;
Too many good people have been lost along the way.
For them, this apology comes far too late.
But it is an apology offered to heal the wounds of the past and to show young Australians – LGBTI or not – that that we do have warriors; that you are here today; you are the elders that stood firm and said no more to the discrimination and hatred which cloaked your lives.
You marched down Oxford Street and then back to the Cross – in the face of indescribable hostility and violence - and in doing so, led the way for the generations that followed.
An apology recognizes your struggle for equality and justice.
It acknowledges the protesters, calling out to those drinking, to “come out of the bars and onto the streets,” swelling the crowds from 500 to over 1,000.
It acknowledges the young people, subject to unspeakable brutality as the police converged on the El Alamein Fountain, trapping the group from all sides and throwing them into paddy wagons;
The fathers, out walking with their son, who found themselves swept up in the march and who peeled off at the end, when their son heard the screaming, only to return again later to help their friends;
The 53 women and men who were held and beaten in cells at Darlinghurst Police Station, afraid for their lives as the crowds gathered outside;
The brave women who risked their legal careers to organize bail and defense for those who were arrested;
The ‘78ers who lost their jobs, livelihoods, homes and families when their names, addresses and occupations were printed in the paper.
This apology recognizes the contribution your bravery made to the broader cause for equality.
In 1984, the NSW Government decriminalized homosexuality.
In the 1980s and 1990s, your advocacy saved lives as NSW responded to the AIDS crisis.
You won the right for LGBTI people to be protected from-discrimination on the basis of sexuality.
These were victories not just for LGBTI people, but for all the people of NSW.
In all you have done, the ‘78ers have demonstrated a passionate resolve for justice.
We saw it again recently, when the ‘78ers stood together and loudly proclaimed they wanted the Australian Government to let asylum seekers stay.
I think the best way to honour you, the warriors, is to take a moment to look forward;
To acknowledge those that carry your baton; activists that refuse to accept the injustices of the world and who are prepared to stand up and fight for equality and a fair deal:-
It’s the allies that check their privilege and refuse to be a party to discrimination anymore;
It’s the PFLAG parents who declare their ongoing love for their kids, no matter what their gender or sexual orientation;
It’s the Uniting Network Australia and Pitt St Uniting Church, organizing for fair treatment for LGBTI refugees;
It’s those calling for coronial inquests into the deaths of gay men in the 1980s and 1990s, who refuse to let crimes of the past stay unsolved;
It’s LGBTI people living out in the country, who refuse to stop being who they are;
It’s the rainbow families who pave the way in schools, churches, daycare groups and sporting teams;
It’s Burwood Girls, joining together to show support for family diversity;
It’s the campaigners for marriage equality, unafraid to stand up in the face of concerted attacks to fight for equality for LGBTI relationships under the law;
It’s the transgender kids who went to Canberra earlier this week, demanding access to the treatment and support they need to live their true lives;
And it’s the teachers, principals, students and lawmakers who recognize the important work of the Safe Schools Coalition, understanding that the best thing we can teach our kids is to care for and respect others, irrespective of our differences.
The spirit of the ‘78ers is in each of these progressive movements.
And it’s a spirit that finds its voice each March as generations of LGBTI Australians retrace your steps down Oxford Street.
I hope this apology undoes some of the harm you experienced;
I also hope it serves as an opportunity for young people to connect to the rich history of LGBTI people in NSW.
I also hope it forms what Mark Gillespie has described so eloquently as a “living apology,” a recognition that the struggle is not over and that we all have a responsibility to protect the human rights of LGBTIQ people in law.
With your guidance, ‘78ers, and with your example, the march for social justice continues on.