EXCLUSIVE: Sydney Mardi Gras will continue to allow NSW Police to take part in next year’s parade despite the testimony of one former cop who has admitted the police force had an “organised” role in gay hate crimes – including murder – that plagued Sydney for decades. Joanna Psaros reports.
Organisers of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras have doubled down on their controversial decision to allow police floats and uniformed marchers after revelations of “organised” gay bashings by the NSW Police taking place in the 1980s.
Long suspected but unconfirmed until now, a former cop has courageously broken the code of silence and brotherhood that has permeated NSW Police and exposed their role in gay hate violence and even murder.
Mark Higginbotham, who joined the NSW Police at the age of 19 in the early 1980s, spilled the revelations in an interview with Nine’s Under Investigation earlier this month.
The former officer admitted witnessing the coordinated exercise of police brutality against Sydney’s gay community, including one incidence in which a gang of officers converged on known gay beat Moore Park and savagely attacked gatherers with truncheons.
“Men were running away from the toilets, scattering and running away from police,” Higginbotham recounted.
“Eventually I understood this was bashing gay people, and it was bashing gay people with aluminium truncheons … done by on-duty, uniformed police.”
Higginbotham further claimed gay victims of violent crimes who came forward to police were commonly dismissed, and suggested that some of the officers responsible for this reprehensible conduct may still be serving.
“There must be people in NSW Police who I worked with,” the former cop told the documentary.
“It’s not far-fetched to think that people still work there.”
WATCH: “THE HATE POLICE” WHERE FORMER COPS ADMIT TO “ORGANISED” ROLE IN VIOLENCE
One commentator disgusted by the former policeman’s admission was award-winning Western Sydney novelist Peter Polites.
“I remember being in my twenties at beats and seeing the older men run off when a police car drove through. I now know why,” the author tweeted while linking to a media article on the revelations. “Sydney Mardi Gras should ban police.”
Upon Higginbotham’s astonishing admission, True Crime News Weekly sent off a series of questions to the likes of NSW Police as well as Sydney Mardi Gras.
NSW Police did not address the allegations above, instead only stating their usual PR blurb.
“For many years, NSWPF has worked with the LGBTQIA+ community building and strengthening our relationship,” a spokesperson guffawed.
“Our participation in, and support for, Mardi Gras is an important demonstration of our ongoing commitment to supporting the LGBTQIA+ community and we look forward to doing so into the future.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Mardi Gras organisers with the usual corporate platitudes attached.
“The NSW Officers who march in the Parade are LGBTQIA+ community members and LGBTQIA+ Liaison Officers. These people are part of our community, are a part of driving progress and change from within,” a spokesperson stated.
“For the last four years, Mardi Gras members have voted to continue to welcome the NSW police force marching in the Parade, acknowledging that their active involvement in the march is a sign of reconciliation and progress. As an organisation we also welcome their involvement in the Parade.”
The decision to welcome the parade’s police presence has been controversial in the NSW Queer community since Mardi Gras members narrowly voted against banning police and prison officer floats in 2020.
Many feel the inclusion of police is too far a departure from the event’s progressive, protest movement roots, and it’s been argued that having uniformed officers marching undermines Mardi Gras’s function as being a safe space for minority groups, many of whom are still disproportionately targeted by Australia’s police and prison system.
Queer lobby group Pride in Protest are also sceptical of NSW Police’s PR-focused motives for participating in the parade, suggesting it’s nothing more than lip service while police attacks continue against the LGBTQIA+ community.
“It is no surprise that the police will continue to pinkwash their activities and their violent past and their current days in terms of violence against queer people. They should have no involvement in Mardi Gras and no absolution from their involvement in the gay and trans hate crime murders of the past 50 years,” a spokesperson for Pride in Protest told True Crime News Weekly.
“We need justice for these murders, justice for Veronica Baxter, justice for everyone harmed by the police and this cannot be achieved until they are defunded and disarmed.”
WATCH: BASHED BY POLICE AT GAY BEAT – ONE MAN REVEALS ALL
NSW has a history of shocking violence against the LGBTQIA+ community, with gay-hate murders tragically common between 1970 to 2000. In 2015, NSW Police formed Strike Force Parrabell to investigate 88 deaths identified as potential hate crimes.
In the body’s final report, NSW Police gave a somewhat qualified acknowledgement of the Force’s role in facilitating the state’s violently homophobic culture.
“The NSW Police Force must acknowledge and has, to some extent, acknowledged its part in marginalisation of the LGBTIQ community during the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s especially,” the report stated.
“Notwithstanding some bumps in the relationship road, the NSW Police Force has come a long way in terms of cultural attitudes and contemporary professionalism since the 1980s and 1990s.”
In May 2022, Scott White was convicted and jailed for the murder of US national Scott Johnson, who was found dead at the bottom of a cliff near a popular gay beat at Manly’s North head in December 1988. However, White was only arrested after Johnson’s family launched its own private investigation, spending millions of dollars, after NSW Police had claimed for decades that Johnson had committed suicide by jumping from a cliff. White was charged last year after his ex-wife came forward to report that he had boasted about bashing gay men in the 1980s.
Another man, Alan Rosendale, has previously told True Crime News Weekly how he was set upon by a gang of men at a Surry Hills beat in 1989 and almost fatally bashed. It turned out the men involved in the brutal attack were all serving NSW police officers. Police at the time covered up the crime by claiming “skinheads” attacked Mr Rosendale.
A Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes has been set up by the NSW Government this year.
The special commission is tasked with looking at the 88 unsolved deaths that were considered by NSW Police Force in its 2018 Strike Force Parrabell report and by a 2021 Parliamentary committee.
Last month, the Commission made an appeal for information from the public.
“As well as looking into those cases, the Special Commission is also assessing many other unsolved deaths and missing persons cases over the same period, in order to cast more light on a dark period for LGBTIQ people in this state,” the commission said in a statement.
“Any recollections or pieces of information that you might have, however major or minor, could provide a vital link in understanding what happened. In some cases, it may ultimately lead to arrests and prosecutions.”
The commission is scheduled to hold public hearings throughout October and November, with further hearings in the first half of 2023. The commission, which is headed by Justice John Sackar, is expected to deliver a final report by June 30, 2023.
If you have any information about the anti-gay and anti-trans hate crimes that occurred between 1970 and 2010 in NSW, you can contact The Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes here.
– Additional reporting by Serkan Ozturk