Police apology for gay club raid points to a positive future

Police apology for gay club raid points to a positive future

The apology by Victoria Police for their actions at the Tasty raid 20 years ago marks an historical turning point in relations between Victoria Police and the gay and lesbian community.

The events of that fateful night on 7 August 1994 - the abuse of power, violation of rights and breach of trust that occurred when 463 night club patrons were detained against their will and strip searched - have cast a long shadow over the relationship between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and those we entrust with responsibility to “uphold the right”.

The Tasty raid put the issue of homophobia in the police force on the pages of our newspapers and on our TV screens. It spawned an investigation by the Ombudsman and a successful class action against Victoria Police that resulted in compensation payments of $6 million.

The Tasty raid has been described as Melbourne’s Stonewall, lighting fires in bellies, galvanizing a gay rights movement and strengthening our resolve to achieve a world free from discrimination. The raid and subsequent litigation also increased public awareness and scrutiny of police conduct. 

There is no question that what happened that night shouldn’t have happened. The Tasty raid became a stain on Victoria Police’s reputation. 

However, thankfully the Tasty raid also became a major catalyst in the evolution of the relationship between Victoria Police and the LGBTI community. Over the past 20 years, Victoria Police has worked hard to the rebuild trust and confidence LGBTI people, developing a gay & lesbian liaison officer (GLLO) program, increasing diversity within their ranks and participating in community events such as Pride March.

This work has been undertaken hand in hand with the LGBTI community. Victoria Police has worked with community organisations to develop important cultural competency training. Recruits don’t leave the academy without speaking to a transgender person, for example, and learning about what it’s like to walk in their shoes. Police members today understand and respect LGBTI people in a way that we could never have dreamed of 20 years ago.

It means that an organization that was once viewed with fear and distrust has become a key partner and ally in our journey for equality.

So, for the most part, the Tasty raid had receded far into our collective memory, layered over by years of hard work and genuine reform.

However, like the pea in the bed of the fairy-tale princess, a kernel of hurt and distrust remained under those layers of good work. Removing this kernel, and re-setting the foundations of our community’s relationship with Victoria Police, is what happened when Acting Chief Commissioner Lucinda Nolan said “we apologise”.

Of course you can’t undo the actions of the past with words, but by acknowledging the impact of the events of that evening, the Acting Chief Commissioner has started to heal emotional scars and old wounds still carried by those that were there. She has also paid respect to LGBTI people as a community, which enables us to transform the way we think about our relationship into the future.

The LGBTI community warmly welcomes this moment and this opportunity for transformation. We thank Acting Chief Commissioner for her words and Victoria Police for demonstrating it has matured enough to face the darkness in its past.

It doesn’t mean that it will be all smooth sailing but we can be confident that future challenges can be met with a shared commitment to overcoming hurdles and building an even stronger, deeper relationship. 

The newly established Victoria Police LGBTI Community Reference Group will allow this conversation to continue, and for sustained work on important issues such as the underreporting of prejudice-motivated crime and harassment experienced by LGBTI people.

As Shaun Miller said when accepting the apology on behalf of those present at the raid, “twenty years ago a darkened nightclub, where people were dancing and socializing, had the lights turned on courtesy of a police raid. The police are yet again turning the lights on but this time for all the right reasons. To shine a bright light on the misdeeds of the past and then turn the light towards the future of a respectful and constructive relationship between the GLBTI community and the police”.

Anna Brown spoke on behalf of the broader LGBTI community at the Victoria Police apology event on 4 August 2014. This is an edited version of her speech.