EXCLUSIVE: A gay man says he was arrested by Victoria Police at a gay festival in Melbourne over the weekend for “booing” a gay contingent from the Liberal Party.
49-year-old St Kilda local, Tony Pitman, is a self-declared “long-time LGBT rights activist”.
Over the weekend, like many within Melbourne’s LGBTQI community, he had joined in the celebrations and events of the annual Midsumma Pride Festival and March.
With thousands of others, Mr Pitman was one of the many faces who lined up to watch the colour of this year’s march along St Kilda’s Fitzroy Street.
“Gather your friends and allies together … to rejoice in our diversity and achievements, at Victoria’s annual queer march,” the official website for this 2018 Pride March reads.
“Mobilise against marginalisation with Midsumma Festival, in this march of celebration and solidarity, as we unfurl our flags, frock up and keep fighting the ongoing issues facing our communities.”
However, the afternoon of Sunday, January 28 didn’t go quite to plan for Mr Pitman, who while watching the parade ended up being arrested for “booing” a bunch of right-wing political party members.
The activist claims the arrest was politically motivated and an attempt to censor his critique of the Liberal Party which had included a gay contingent as part of this year’s march.
“I was arrested by police and driven off in a divvy van simply for booing and shouting ‘You’re not welcome’ at the Liberal contingent during the Midsumma Pride March,” Mr Pitman explained to True Crime News Weekly.
“After booing and shouting this a few times, one of the Midsumma security personnel pulled me aside and told me he was, ‘Going to smash my head in’. They were his exact words.”
Mr Pitman says he was upset at the “hypocrisy” of the right-wing, conservative political party which is notoriously homophobic and has campaigned against LGBTIQ initiatives such as Safe Schools and also foisted an unnecessary $100 million plebiscite about marriage equality upon the Australian public.
The activist told True Crime News Weekly however that his day only got worse after his run-in with Midsumma’s security team.
“Then several police officers grabbed me and dragged me away from the march. They held me beside St Kilda station for a few minutes until several other officers came and dragged me to a divvy van,” Mr Pitman said.
“I was then driven to the South Melbourne police station in the back of the divvy van, which was an extremely unpleasant and claustrophobic experience as the back of the van was like an oven from the intense summer heat.”
Mr Pitman has told True Crime News Weekly that he is “shocked and extremely disappointed” over the whole incident and has called on Midsumma to apologise.
“I was threatened with violence and then arrested and confined in a divvy van for simply expressing my political opinion in a harmless way. What country are we living in,” he said.
“I hope that Midsumma will apologise for this incident and prevent such a thing happening again in the future.”
Mr Pitman was not charged with any offence and soon released outside South Melbourne police station.
One witness has told True Crime News Weekly that he was quite shocked to hear Mr Pitman had been arrested as he had personally observed his behaviour during the day and didn’t think too much of it.
“I witnessed Tony in person and he was very tame when I saw him,” the witness said. “He may have had a separate altercation.”
Another witness however has described an alternate version of events that suggest Mr Pitman was being a nuisance but was still treated courteously by security and police.
The witness, who was marching with the Liberal Party contingent, has said:
“Tony ran into the middle of the road at the beginning and stood at the side of us yelling, ‘Boo’ and ‘You’re not welcome here’ continuously. We just ignored him.
“He wouldn’t move so two more cops came over and said to him that he needs to get off the road. He started yelling ‘Are you arresting me?’ really loudly. The cops said ‘No, you just need to get off the road’. Then he started screaming, ‘What about my rights?! This is my free speech!! More police brutality!'”
True Crime News Weekly contacted both Victoria Police and Midsumma organisers to discuss the incident.
A spokesperson for Victoria Police told True Crime News Weekly that Mr Pitman was “displaying threatening behaviour” and while it respects people’s right to protest peacefully, it will not tolerate those who break the law.
“Police observed a man displaying threatening behaviour towards participants and spectators at the Midsumma Pride March about 2.55pm yesterday,” the spokesperson said.
“Police ordered the 49-year-old man to move on, warning him that his behaviour was in breach of the peace.
“When he failed to do so he was arrested and subsequently transported away from the march area and released outside the nearest police station.”
Midsumma has so far refused to comment on the troubling and somewhat bizarre incident.
For his part, Mr Pitman says if Midsumma isn’t going to apologise to him, festival organisers should at the very least bring in some guidelines around booing during the march.
“They should make it clear whether booing at marchers is allowed or not,” Mr Pitman said.
“It seems they have no clear policy on it.”
– UPDATE: After this story was published, Midsumma released the following statement –
Midsumma was shocked and sorry to hear about the experiences reported by one protestor at Midsumma Pride March yesterday.
Midsumma actively supports and acknowledges the right for anyone to undertake peaceful protests. We ensure our values are clearly communicated thorough briefing sessions with security staff and police representatives prior to all of our events.
The report about conduct of security and police has come as a surprise to us and we have quickly commenced investigation regarding the incident through both the security team (contracted by us) and police (who obviously we do not control) about the incident.
Police and security have reported back to us that their representatives on site were concerned that the behaviour of one patron protesting at the march escalating beyond peaceful and was impacting on both marchers and pedestrians.
Security management were particularly surprised about the report of the verbal conduct of security staff which would be out of ‘character’ from their training and briefing, specifically about potential incidences such as this.
Event Security personal deny any threatening behaviour of any kind have confirmed they removed themselves from the situation when local police on duty stepped in. Security returned to their positions and were not aware of the following police actions.
While not under our control, we have also asked police for their knowledge of the incident.
The police have told us that they detained a protester to remove him from the situation as in their view it had escalated to a point where people’s safety was at risk, but there was no charge.
We will continue a further review of the incident.
To reiterate Midsumma does and will continue to actively support peaceful protest and we are very sorry that such an incident marred the day.