Apology to Mardi Gras 1978 Participants

I join with those offering a heartfelt apology for the mistreatment and discrimination at the hands of the NSW Police Force and New South Wales government agencies suffered by those people who have become known as the 78ers. The march that took place on 24 June 1978, and has become known as Sydney's first Mardi Gras, was not the iconic Mardi Gras experience we enjoy today. In the words of Ken Davis, it went from "nerve-wracking to exhilarating to traumatic all in the space of a few hours". The 78ers had four demands. They were not extraordinary demands by any means—they were things that heterosexual people had expected for centuries. The demands were: for police to stop harassing gay men and lesbians; for the Government to repeal New South Wales anti-homosexual laws in the Summary Offences Act; to stop workplace discrimination; and to protect the rights of lesbians and gay men.

That early march was full of flair, colour and chanting. Spectators were encouraged to get out of the bars and into the streets; others were enticed to join the march along the Golden Mile. When the group turned off Oxford Street into College Street the number of participants had grown to around 2,000. It was supposed to be a fun, non-violent celebration of a day of international gay solidarity. And although the organisers had a permit for the march, there was police harassment and brutality—it was common for many gay and lesbian people to experience such things at the time. The police took 53 people to Darlinghurst Police station, where they were charged under the Summary Offences Act. Many of them were beaten whilst in the cells. The names of those 53 people were then published in the Sydney Morning Herald. This resulted in people losing their jobs and being publicly outed to friends, families, acquaintances and strangers, but it did not stop the 78ers who galvanised support for other events in 1978. The brutality and discrimination continued. The 78ers were pioneers. They blazed the trail for Australia's gay and lesbian community. Their courage and bravery laid the foundation for LGBTIQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning] equality, visibility and acceptance. They paved the way for decades of law reform. The 78ers shifted the idea of activism as an alternative to confronting street marches. Banners, slogans and daylight were ditched and a party atmosphere was created to celebrate diversity.

I sincerely apologise to all the 78ers for all their pain. The 78ers brought about fundamental change in our society. Indeed, people are now more comfortable to identify as being different because of the catalyst of change they created. There is still a way to go for true equality, including marriage equality, but New South Wales is certainly a better place because of the outspokenness of the 78ers. I am truly sorry for the discrimination they experienced at that time, and which they continue to experience, but I thank them for their activism and for raising the issue of diversity and difference, and the importance of acceptance.