The chair of a parliamentary inquiry into gay and transgender hate crimes in NSW says an upcoming report will recommend the inquiry continues after the state election to conduct hearings in regional communities, including Newcastle.
Submissions to the legislative council inquiry allege multiple cases of homophobic violence in the Hunter as well as biased conduct by members of the justice system in the reference period of 1970 to 2010.
Testimony relating to Newcastle, and other areas outside of Sydney, has not yet been heard by the committee, formed in September. The inquiry’s chair, Liberal MP Shayne Mallard, said hearings had now concluded.
“We will be issuing an interim report, in late February. That report is recommending to the next parliament to reissue the terms of reference in the new term of parliament,” he said.
“We really need to go to rural and regional NSW.”
Mr Mallard said there was no guarantee the inquiry would continue, however, there was a high-likelihood it would as it had “very non-partisan” support.
Submissions to the inquiry include one report from a community group claiming a series of attacks at a gay beat in Lake Macquarie between 2011 and 2015 were not acted upon by police, including verbal threats, men throwing fireworks and one man being hit over the head with a pipe.
Others detail incidents of street harassment and assault in Newcastle since 1990, one as recent as 2018.
Dr Allen George, a lecturer in socio-legal studies who has conducted research on anti-gay violence in the Hunter, said he supported the inquiry continuing because it was “impossible” to quantify historic rates of violence in teh region as incidents were generally not reported to police.
He said interviews he had conducted suggested the gay and lesbian community was subject to attacks between the 70s and 90s.
“In Newcastle it was primarily that people were singled out and attacked in public places, or in parks working as beats.
“Walking down the street in Islington in the 80s and 90s, where Pipers night club used to be, people could be singled out.”
One applicant to the inquiry said they were punched “by a man who was targeting anyone that was walking into the door of a gay nightclub” in Newcastle in 1990. The man later “severely attacked” a friend.
“I felt like it was too unsafe to walk on the streets at night after that point,” they wrote.
“All of this has led me to feel fear and lack of safety on the streets even now years after this all took place.”
Another applicant claims she was told “not to go out alone to any gay venues anywhere in the state” during Mardi Gras after alleged attacks on men from Newcastle.
Dr George said police relations with the gay community in the city were also “not good” before a cultural shift in the 90s prompted by the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in 1984.
Police harassment in the city gained attention in 1978 when journalist David Marr reported in the National Times that officers had interviewed and recorded the personal details of hundreds of gay men in relation to a murder in Newcastle.
The inquiry was sparked by the release of two reviews of police investigations into 86 suspicious deaths that occurred in NSW between 1976 and 2000. Five murders on the list occurred in the Hunter.
NSW Police’s review of the five murders, found no evidence of anti-gay bias involved in the crimes.
A further submission to the inquiry, however, argues that another murder that occurred in Merriwa in 1978 was downgraded to a case of manslaughter due to the use of a “gay panic defence”.
Mr Mallard said the interim report on the inquiry into gay and transgender hate crimes between 1970 and 2010 will be published on the NSW Parliament website.
NSW Police declined to comment on allegations contained in submissions saying it would be inappropriate to do so while the inquiry is active.
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