Gays, lesbians act against bashings

April 17, 1991

By Ken Davis

SYDNEY — Red paint on cathedrals, media headquarters and government offices downtown and in Parramatta: Sydney's morning news on April 8 was dominated by the actions of a new, clandestine gay group, One In Seven.

The previous weekend, the group's manifesto had appeared as a full-page advertisement in the Star Observer: "Our blood runs in the streets and in the parks and in the casualty wards and in the morgue ... Our blood runs because in this country our political, educational, legal and religious systems actively encourage violence against us. We are gay men and lesbians ... WE'RE OVER IT and we're going to paint the town red!"

The previous weekend, another gay man had been murdered in the inner-west suburb of Newtown.

The rising tide of street violence and the almost regular news of murders has fostered unprecedented anger in Sydney's gay and lesbian communities. This anger has now focussed on the trial of eight young South Sydney men who beat a gay man, Richard Johnson, to death in Alexandria Park on January 24, 1990.

While the red paint attacks were timed to coincide with the sentencing of the killers, they also sought to focus the blame not on the killers as individuals but on the education system, politicians, media and churches responsible for conditions that generate random, prejudice-based violence.

An inner-city doctor who treats many people with HIV and many victims of anti-gay violence was arrested in connection with the paint attack on parliament.

There have been two large marches against anti-gay violence, and another is planned. The Whistles Project has distributed thousands of whistles and is teaching people how to use them to avert violence and call for support when threatened by bashers. This group, together with Dykes on Bikes, has begun regular night-time patrols, while another group, the Gay and Lesbian Street Patrol, is also planning patrols.

There are unresolved questions facing the movement: how much to rely on police for protection; and the value and dangers of legislation outlawing vilification on the basis of homosexuality. Left-wing gays and lesbians are wary of stronger police and state powers.

The most heartening response to the murders in the South Sydney area has come from local high school students. The morning after the red paint protests, hundreds packed the Art Gallery cinema for the launch of Truth or Dare, a hard-hitting video produced by the students to educate their peers across the country against "poofter bashing".

Supported by a range of organisations including the South Sydney Youth Service, the Family Planning Association, and the AIDS Council of NSW, the 24-minute video very realistically works through a number of sexuality and prejudice issues. Most of the young people who D> are from nearby working-class neighbourhoods, which have large Aboriginal and Vietnamese communities. According to South Sydney mayor Viv Smith, the city also has one of the largest gay communities in the world.

The video project follows a successful series of school workshops in which lesbians and gay men confronted the prejudices of the students. Prior to that, there had been a tendency to regard violence against gays as a legitimate sport and to side with the local youths arrested over the killing of Richard Johnson.

Participating in the video launch, Justice Elizabeth Evatt linked prejudice-based street violence to the institutionalised racist violence of police and the high-tech violence of the US-led forces in the Gulf War. One of the actors, Greg Walters, called on the audience to direct their anger beyond the local youth gangs and towards the questions of homelessness, racism, unemployment and boredom that feed domestic and street violence.

The issue now is whether this explicit and valuable video will be shown in schools across NSW and the rest of Australia. Or will the education authorities hide behind false decency and risk more students and citizens being injured, killed or jailed because of anti-gay bashings?

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