Original 78ers welcome NSW government apology for violence at first Mardi Gras


The NSW government has apologised to the members of the group of gay and lesbian people who marched in protest of homosexual criminalisation in 1978.

The NSW government has apologised to a group of gay rights activists for the abuse and suffering they endured nearly four decades ago at a protest that would become the first Sydney Mardi Gras.

In June 1978, more than 500 activists descended on Darlinghurst in solidarity with New York's Stonewall movement, protesting the criminalisation of homosexual acts and discrimination against the gay community.

The movement ended in violence, ill-treatment and public shaming against the gay rights activists at the hands of the police, government and media.

The group, known as the 78ers, packed the NSW Parliament public gallery on Thursday to hear the words they’ve waited 38 years for.

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Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith, who introduced the apology motion to the parliament, said many 78ers had lived a life of hurt and pain, and many had taken their own lives.

He said the apology was for all of them.

The Sydney Morning Herald also issued an apology on Wednesday for publishing the names and addresses of many of those arrested and charged during the demonstration.

Original member Gary Schliemann said the government's apology would never heal the pain and brutality people had suffered, but it was important.

Many of the demonstrators were subjected to ill-treatment of what Mr Schliemann described as “institutionalised police brutality”.

But he said it was encouraging to see a “cross parliamentary truce” in the delivery of today’s apology.

Mr Schliemann said it was touching to see how moved politicians were during the apology, “at a human level”.

He was surprised at how “genuinely appreciative” many politicians were for the leadership the gay community, at a grassroots level, had shown over the years.

“And it’s very sweet to see that kind of acknowledgement – it was a generous acknowledgement,” Mr Schliemann said.

He said he always believed this day would come, but was “absolutely not expecting it to take this long - 38 years”.

For Mr Schliemann, it was also a day of sadness to listen to an apology for those who have already died and will never get to hear it for themselves.

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He said hearing positive affirmations, vows and assessments from state leaders showed that the community's attitude towards the gay community had changed.

“They’ve acknowledged the community has changed and it’s possible to now be openly respective of gay and lesbian people," he said.

"That’s what’s significant… there’s been a real change in the community.”

The opposition Planning, Environment and Heritage spokeswoman, Penny Sharpe, said the apology was a long time coming and well past due.

She said with parliament’s support, leaders would recognise the courageous people who refused to accept discrimination and literally put their bodies on the line in the struggle for equality. 

- with AAP

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