One of the victims, Scott Johnson. Image: NSW Police
A Sydney police hate crime investigation has found that at least 27 men were murdered probably because they were gay during an especially violent and dark period in the city.
Police have admitted that an “ugly” wave of gay-hate violence led to the murder of numerous gay men, including some who were thrown off cliffs or slain in parks that were frequented by gay men.
The violence spiked in the 1980s, in part fueled by “moral panic” during the early days of HIV/Aids epidemic. More than 20 cases of assault took place each day but went unreported.
“The NSW Police Force is acutely aware of and acknowledges without qualification both its and society’s acceptance of gay bashings and shocking violence directed at gay men, and the LGBTIQ community between 1976 and 2000,” stated the findings, which were released on Wednesday June 27.
According to Nicholas Parkhill, the chief executive officer of LGBTI health group ACON, it was important for the investigation to be conducted to serve justice for the victims, their families and the LGBT+ community at large.
“The families, friends, loved ones and entire LGBTI community needs to know that these deaths mattered and that the required education, understanding and cultural change will occur,” he wrote.
The Strikeforce Parrabell review was launched in 2015 with specialist investigators and academics and looked into 88 suspicious deaths that occurred during a 24-year-period and were feared to be related to anti-LGBTI hate.
The experts concluded that eight murders, in which the killers were convicted, were definitely anti-gay hate crimes. A further 19 cases are suspected to also have been motivated by homophobia, while 25 of the other deaths could not be ruled out as hate crimes.
As part of the report, a number of recommendations were made to ensure that the police will in future be able to better recognise and appropriately investigate bias-based crimes. These include improving systems and training for police to understand LGBTIQ experiences.
“While not perfectly documented, violence against the LGBTIQ community is a well-known blight on human history, not just in NSW – or even Australia – it is a not-so-secret shame for the entire world,” commented NSW Police Force Assistant Commissioner Crandell.
“We undertook this review knowing we can’t change the past, but we can shape our future, and this needed to be done to acknowledge what has happened and make sure it can’t happen again,” he said.