MEDIA WATCH | John Sandeman
Thursday 25 February 2016
The Sydney Morning Herald has apologised after 38 years to participants in Sydney’s first Mardi Gras.
As the paper’s Daisy Dumas recounts “On June 24, 1978, more than 500 activists took to Taylor Square in Darlinghurst in support and celebration of New York’s Stonewall movement and to call for an end to criminalisation of homosexual acts and discrimination against homosexuals. The peaceful movement ended in violence, mass arrests and public shaming at the hands of the police, government and media.
“Three days after the melee, Fairfax Media newspapers including the Herald publicly outed 53 people involved in the pro-equality march, publishing their names, addresses and occupations in the newspaper.”
The paper also published the details of other people arrested at some other protests by the gay community around the same time.
The publication of the names and addresses led to people losing jobs and homes, the SMH reports.
I was a junior member of the Fairfax editorial staff a couple of years later. The fear in the gay community was sheeted home to me when one Sunday a young guy approached me at church and outed himself. He revealed that he had been arrested at that year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and was terrified that the Herald was going to publish his name.
I remember being quite nervous but I went and talked to the paper’s Chief of Staff who told me that the paper’s policy had changed and the names and addresses of those arrested that year would definitely not be published.
To this day I wonder if it was that I had established a reputation at church as someone you could share a secret with, or just that the guy was extremely desperate. Maybe both. But I was glad to give him the good news on the next Sunday.
The Herald’s apology will precede an official apology by the NSW Government to the group known as the 78ers who were arrested at the first Mardi Gras, which includes broadcaster Julie McCrossin who told the SMH, “I don’t doubt I’ll cry,” she said. “This is emotional, this is personal.”
The Victorian state government will make a similar formal apology on May 24. The Tasmanian government has also announced an apology.
The Victorian, Tasmanian, ACT and South Australian governments have removed (or are in the process of removing) convictions for historical homosexual offences from the public record.
The majority of Eternity readers are supporters of traditional marriage – according to the National Church Life Survey “census” 73 per cent of church attenders do not support same sex marriage.
When the Mardi Gras arrests were made in 1978, homosexual acts were still illegal in most states (except SA and the ACT). Opposition to decriminalisation was led (at least in part) by conservative Christians. Others supported decriminalisation without shifting from a traditional view of homosexuals.
For example K. J. Clements, then bishop of Canberra and Goulburn said, after the decriminalisation motion had passed at his 1971 Synod, “We are not talking about whether we approve or disapprove of homosexuals, but about how we are going to treat them. They are a fact of life”
Do Christians still support sending homosexuals to jail? I do not know of any recent surveys on this issue. I wonder if Christians, like the Sydney Morning Herald, and several state governments owe the LGBTI community an apology on this issue.