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SX – Thursday, 23 August 2007

Police resources may be stretched, but they still manage to cover the beats, Stephen Bull reports.

I recently defended a client charged with indecent behaviour and I thought SX readers might be interested in the outcome of the case.

My client was caught standing in a toilet cubicle in Marrickville with another man. The police evidence was that the plain-clothes young constable saw two pairs of feet under a closed toilet door, promptly jumped up and looked over the door and saw the shocking sight of two men standing together. The door was locked and nothing was seen apart from feet.

This flagrant display of feet caused the police to arrest both men on the spot and handcuff them. Both made no move to flee the scene and were co-operative. When the senior sergeant appeared, the first thing he did was order that the two men be uncuffed.

The magistrate found the thought of two men having sex in a toilet cubicle in a public park in the middle of the day when children were present objectively offensive. Such a use of the toilet would scare the children who used the park.

The decision shows more than anything else that mainstream attitudes rule. My personal analysis is that the middle-class families moving into Marrickville have been complaining like hell about the perverts in ‘their’ park. In terms of penalty, the magistrate dismissed the charge without a conviction. The lightest sentence possible. I advised my client to appeal.

In my earlier article, I did criticise the NSW police for directing resources towards prosecuting gay men in the suburbs and suggested that there was a bit of institutional homophobia floating around the NSW police. I can now safely renew this criticism. The two police, who arrested and cuffed my client for standing in a toilet cubicle, were in an unmarked police vehicle, in plain clothes and on what they described as ‘proactive policing duties’ within the Marrickville Local Area Command. It must have been a slow day. They were roaming around Marrickville targeting what they perceived as anti-social behaviour at their discretion. Both admitted, under cross-examination, that there was no complaint that day concerning activity in the park but it was well known by police as a gay beat. Nothing to do, go bust some poofs.

The NSW police is a huge organisation with a long history. It contains some humane and well-intentioned people at all levels. It is trite to demonise the police as the enemy. It is also inherently conservative. In the police mindset, ‘one of us’ is not an openly gay male.

Lesbians seem to function better in the NSW police although there have been some celebrated incidents when the ladies appear to have been thrown out of the club. The example of Lola Scott springs to mind. Dykes appear to fit in better through sheer force of numbers. I don’t think you can underestimate numbers. For some reasoning, joining the police is something that gay women like to do. Butch dykes can also talk about tits and football which is handy.

I know of very few openly gay men in the NSW police who find it a comfortable place to be. I have seen some nasty and weird things happen with police officers that like to have sex with other men. The pop psychologist in me would tend to diagnose the problem as the self-hating homosexual. An ugly beast in anyone’s home.

Bureaucracies have their own unspoken rules of membership. Don’t ask me to point out the section in the police handbook that says poofters are bad news but they definitely are not part of the law enforcement club in New South Wales. Some of the ‘cultural’ issues that make police gay-unfriendly are not gay-specific but part of broader issues concerning minorities, gender and sexuality. Police tend to divide the world up into ‘us’ and ‘them/criminals’.

The police force has a huge turnover of staff. Many are now recruited and out of the place in about two years. Many police at the coalface have little experience and less judgment. The young constable who handcuffed my client for no reason said he handcuffed him because he had concerns about his safety. This is in the middle of the day in a park in Marrickville.

I am cynical about statements on websites about inclusion, banners in parades and gay and lesbian liaison officers. There is nothing wrong with good intentions but actions are better. The NSW police have a beat policy, which provides some guidelines to how beats are supposed to be policed. Police are only supposed to police beats if the boss tells them to. In this case, the police were in plain clothes and an unmarked car. The policy clearly states that operations should be conducted in uniform and marked cars. The policy doesn’t say that the law relating to offensive behaviour shouldn’t be enforced. My advice is stick to the saunas. At this time of year, they’re warmer and always safer. View article

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Download • Law and Gay Identity • Australasian Law Teachers Association (ALTA) 2007 Refereed Conference Papers

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ACON seeks meeting with police over beats • SX • November 16, 2006

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Letters – ‘Negative thoughts’&‘Dirty business’ • SX • November 16, 2006

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Police converge on beats, not on streets • SX • November 9, 2006

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Letters – ‘No excuse for beats’&’Straight Perverts’ • SX • November 9, 2006

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Police and AVP announce new liaison • SX • November 2, 2006

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Gay men’s cruising sites under spotlight • SX • November 2, 2006

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Coroner criticises police investigation into gay men’s deaths

ABC PM • March 9, 2005

An investigation stretching back 20 years had an ending of sorts today, when the Deputy New South Wales Coroner handed down her findings into the deaths of three gay men in Sydney.

The three men died or went missing in the mid to late 1980s from a well-known gay haunt in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

The cases were all investigated, inadequately according to the Coroner, and quickly forgotten.

But in a story that could come from the files of a television “cold case” program, a New South Wales policeman who wanted to know the truth re-opened the cases a decade later. Read more

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Operation Taradale — Finding and Recommendations:

Inquest into the death of John Alan RUSSELL
Inquests into the suspected deaths of Ross Bradley WARREN
Gilles Jacques MATTAINI
Operation Taradale Findings • March 9, 2005

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The Time Of Year The Gay World Dreads

Sydney Morning Herald – posted at www.lavatories.com.au

Thursday October 27, 1988

By JOHN STAPLETON

Inside the public lavatories in Moore Park, a well-known meeting place for homosexuals, are the words “Slave wants Master.”

Next to this: “Poofs are dead”. And outside, in capital letters, “BEWARE BASHERS”.

With the arrival of warm weather, the practice of “cruising” for sex partners goes outdoors – and the gay bashings start to increase again.

In the last three weeks a man has been attacked on Oxford Street and later admitted to hospital with a broken pelvis, while another had his arm broken in three places. In Newtown, a gay man was attacked by two skinheads and left with two black eyes, abrasions and an injured neck.

But before these, only 11 bashings had been reported to police since January – seven in Moore Park, two in Green Park, Darlinghurst, and two in Rushcutters Bay Park. Police and gay groups agree that many bashings at any time of year go unreported.

Street Watch, a project to monitor violence against lesbians and gay men, begins today. It is being conducted by the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, in conjunction with the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service and Lesbian Line.

“Street Watch has been made necessary because it is clear that lesbians and gay men do not report assaults to the police,” said Mr Gary Cox, co-convener of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.

“There remains a level of distrust towards the police, even though improvements have been made in the last few years. There is a belief that police are unable to do anything about assaults.”

Street Watch aims to collect the information via a questionnaire administered by staff of the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service and Lesbian Line. The results will be collated to identify trouble spots and areas requiring special attention.

This information will be passed to the Police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, which was established in 1984 and began a period of distinct improvement in relations between the gay world and the force.

Senior Sergeant Brian Gately, recently appointed to the Liaison Unit, says everybody is entitled to protection by the police – “we want people to report bashings. ”

Bisexual men might fear that if they report a bashing to the police their families could find out about their sexuality.

However, said Sergeant Gately, such fears were unfounded unless a serious injury was involved. “Discretion is paramount in everyday police duties,” he says.

And police are governed by community attitudes, he adds.

“There are 12,000 police, and there is obviously a range of attitudes, but amongst the upper echelons the attitude towards gays has become much more tolerant.”

What motivates the gay bashers?

Mr Cox said he knew of no studies about it, “but raping a lesbian is seen as an accolade in terms of sexual prowess.

“Many members of teenage gangs are insecure about their own sexuality, which is probably the major reason for assaults on gay men. You are seen as a real man if you go out and bash a poofter,” said Mr Cox.

“Gays are one of the most hated sections of the community. While racist comments are no longer socially acceptable, derogatory comments about gays still get widespread approval.”

He says every gay man and lesbian knows the fear of being bashed, the fear of walking home, alone or in groups, and the degradation of being taunted from cars or by passers-by.

Many also know what it is like to comfort their bloodstained and distraught friends after a bashing.

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Calls For End To Qld Crackdown On Gays

Sydney Morning Herald — posted at www.lavatories.com.au

Sunday March 27, 1988

By GREG ROBERTS

BRISBANE: The Queensland AIDS Council called on the Premier, Mr Ahern, yesterday to stop a police crackdown on homosexuals which has seen scores of men arrested on indictable offences in parks and public lavatories.

The State Opposition also called for an end to police “persecution” of homosexuals, and for the sacking of the Minister for Health, Mrs Leisha Harvey.

The Herald reported on Saturday that the Government plans to spend about $1 million on prosecuting 70 men, including a prominent National Party member, for sexual offences. Most were arrested by police agent provocateurs.

Two Gold Coast men are also facing charges of sodomy and gross indecency, allegedly committed upon each other in the privacy of their home.

Queensland AIDS experts fear that a memorandum circulated by Mrs Harvey in January will require them to give the Government confidential information on AIDS patients.

The president of the Queensland AIDS Council, Mr Bill Rutkin, said Mr Ahern should interveneimmediately to stop police from “continuing their gay-bashing activities”.

“AIDS could be out of control in this State within a few years if the present policy of confrontation and persecution is not reversed,” Mr Rutkin said.

“Mrs Harvey, Mr Clauson (the Attorney-General) and Mr Gunn (the Police Minister) are apparently too gutless to confront the police on this matter.

“Ultimately the responsibility for the police actions is the Premier’s. Mr Ahern should realise that the average Queenslander does not support the police snooping around the bedrooms of ordinary citizens.”

The Opposition’s health spokesman, Mr Pat Comben, said the State Government was putting its “narrow view on morals” before the interests of public health

He said Mrs Harvey should be sacked. “The Health Minister is permitting the agenda for the State’s health care responsibilities to be dictated by a conservative section of the police force,” he said.

Mr Comben said homosexuals and bisexuals in Queensland were being “cowed, confused and driven underground by the police and by laws placed on the statute books last century.

“We apparently don’t have the police staff levels necessary to protect our suburbs, but we do have enough police officers in trench coats to go around peering through bedroom windows.”

A police spokesman, Superintendent John Youngberry, denied that police were deliberately entrapping men in public lavatories and parks.

He said: “We don’t set out to deliberately catch the poofs. We’ve had complaints from the public about some of their activities and we’ve acted on those complaints.”

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VICTIMLESS CRIMES – DECRIMINALISATION OF HOMOSEXUAL SEXUAL ACTIVITY • Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law • September 1994

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Police ‘beat wars’ against gays

Green Left Weekly • September 1,1993

MELBOURNE — An increase in the number of gay men being arrested by police decoys in public places has highlighted what is an ongoing outrage for Melbourne’s gay community. According to the Police-Gay Liaison Committee, anything up to 20 gay men a week are being arrested at a park on charges of offensive behaviour. The committee alleges that undercover police approach gays, provoke offenses and then apprehend the “offenders”. Read more

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Relief For The Passing Parade

SUNDAY AGE — posted at www.lavatories.com.au

Saturday August 22, 1992

Anthony Dennis

IT IS 75 years, or as close to it as anyone can recall, since those in dire need were first able to find relief below street level. Time has marched on, but the city’s strategically scattered subterranean public lavatories are a going concern.

In other cities, councils, exasperated by the prevalence of deviant behavior, expensive maintenance and a belief that “when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go” is no longer reason enough, have closed their underground toilets. In Melbourne almost a dozen have survived.

For some, they are sinister no-go areas, more intimidating than the ground-level variety. From the top of the stairs you can never be certain of precisely what lurks below. For others, the subterranean lavatory is a refuge from the hurly-burly above ground.

According to the state historian, Dr Bernard Barrett: “It’s amazing that these underground toilets still exist at all when you consider the aspects of our society which have vanished over the years.

“A ground-level toilet is okay in a park, but on a footpath it can be an eyesore. It is unlikely there will be any more underground toilets built.” Some of the underground toilets are known homosexual haunts. Council cleaners jangle their keys at the top of the stairs as a signal that those below should compose themselves.

Mr Rod North, Melbourne City Council’s supervisor of cleansing, said that drug use inside the toilets was not a major problem. He agreed with Dr Barrett that the glory days of the subterranean toilet had passed: the expense of excavation and tank construction was too great.

Attendants are still present at the bottom of the stairs beside the GPO in Elizabeth Street, and in Collins Street, just opposite the City Square, but these men and women are a disappearing species. Other underground toilets once had their attendants too, but the toilet staff that remain now cost the city an estimated $500,000 a year in wages, a high price.

At road level, at least, the city’s underground toilets are classy places, resplendent with iron fencing and ornate arching entrances. Downstairs some have a dozen or more cubicles. Foreign tourists are impressed that no payment is required. Nowadays, stainless steel urinals are favored over the old porcelain variety, some of which still may be found.

At the GPO and Collins Street the male and female attendants work inside fish-bowl glass booths. They sit for hours with watchful, though discreet eyes, ready replacement toilet rolls and jumbo tins of air freshener at hand. A staff of 30 attendants work at these two locations.

And, yes, officially there are additional “relieving” staff.

Among the regular attendants is Mrs Ngaire Jones, who works at the ladies’ loo in Collins Street which is decorated in pink tiles, with even a row of make-up mirrors and stools down one wall.

“You get to know people, especially old ladies who’ve been shopping all day,” she said. “For them it’s a refuge and a place to rest. People like to come down here because they know they’ll be safe. You meet a lot of nice people here. It makes you feel good when they praise the cleanliness of the place.” The opening and closing times of the underground lavatories, the first of which Dr Barrett believes were completed in Flinders Street about 1918, have been reduced over the years. Now none stays open beyond 10pm. Once, you used to be able to go until 11.30pm. Twenty-five years ago pubs closed at 6pm; when their doors shut there was literally nowhere to go.

“The user-pays outlook expects people to use toilets in cinemas, hotels and stores,” said Dr Barrett. “I hope that Melbourne’s historic underground public loos will still have a place in the economic rationalist future.”

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Gay Beats: Our Most Shameful Sexual Secret?

Sydney Morning Herald — posted on www.lavatories.com.au

Wednesday June 17, 1992

BRIDGET WILSON

IT’S called “doing the beat”. It’s been going on since the beginning of civilisation and it’s a practice that’s not going to go away.

Men who want to have sex with men often don’t have an option but to go to gay “beats” which can be at beaches, public lavatories, parks or shopping centres.

Sometimes they have sex at the beat, and sometimes they just want to talk and have contact with others of their kind.

Many of the men who use beats do not identify with being gay. Often they are married and have children. They don’t feel comfortable in a gay bar or nightclub and the only place to make contact is the beat.

One of the attractions – for some of these men – of having sex in a public place is the element of potential danger. And therein lies the problem.

A gay man called Richard Johnson was bashed to death in a park in Alexandria two years ago and only a year ago, another man, Bill Allen, died from injuries he received in the same park. No-one goes to that beat any more

Men who use beats also run the risk of being charged by the police with offensive behaviour. Often undercover detectives will dress in the style of gay men and go to a beat and make arrests.

At other times uniformed police will act after receiving complaints from the public or a council.

Both councils and the police force have been criticised for their lack of understanding this issue.

Sue Thompson, a Police Gay and Lesbian Client Services consultant, says that police are often “the meat in the sandwich”.

Ms Thompson says: “They have to act but they need to keep a clear assessment of priority.

“You get bashers in public toilets and that is a far worse issue and a far more serious issue than so-called offensive behaviour. You’ve got violence with potential murder happening and that’s much more of a problem for police.

Ms Thompson says that nowadays police are becoming more aware that violence directed towards beat users is more of a problem than beat users themselves.

And with all the publicity in the media about gay bashings, these incidents are being reported more often than in the past.

“That’s a good plus,” she says. “Whereas 10 years ago police might have thought: ‘Well, so what? There’s a bashing out there, they shouldn’t be doing it – serves them right’; now there’s been a shift of attitude.”

The change in attitude has also come from the public. Ms Thompson says that up until a couple of years ago beat users were reluctant to report violence or police harassment.

“People are more willing to say even though I’m here (at the beat) – one: I don’t deserve to be bashed; two: I deserve professional treatment by police. There’s been an increase in people’s expectations.”

A working party of high-ranking police is expected to come up with an action plan for beats this month.

The staff officer for the State Commander, John Garvey, said that the police had received some positive feedback and the strategies that would flow on should be “acceptable to all sides of the community”.

Two men who probably know more about beats than most are Phillip Keen and Peter Kerans. They are two of nine beats outreach workers employed by the AIDS Council of NSW (ACON).

The beats program has been going since 1988. Its aim is to educate men who use the beats about safe sex practices and give support to beat users.

When Keen and Kerans first started working the beats, they often found that because some of the beat users didn’t identify with being gay, they wouldn’t get HIV or AIDS “because that only happened to fags on Oxford Street”.

Keen and Kerans say they don’t come across that attitude much these days because of the amount of publicity about HIV and traditionally Oxford Street and its surrounding areas have many gay venues.

And so for that reason, one of the main areas they target is around Botany and as far south as Cronulla because there are no venues for men in that area to go to if they want to have sex with other men.

Keen says: “Overwhelmingly, most men who use beats are very discreet about the way that they use them. The last thing they want is to be discovered, so there’s a sort of code that people follow, part of which is to avoid being noticed by someone who is not doing the beat. So people go a long way to avoid being noticed by the general public.”

Both Keen and Kerans are concerned that a story in a Sunday newspaper quoted a police sergeant as saying that one particular park was “infested with homosexuals” during the day. The local council closed the public toilets in the park because police said they had been used as a “clubhouse”. After the closure graffiti appeared that read: “Poofter bashers operate here. Beware.”

Keen said he went to that beat a day after the story appeared and no-one there would talk.

“Perhaps they (the beat users) thought we were plainclothes police – so this kind of thing gets in the way of our work and gets in the way of effective HIV prevention.”

Peter Grogan is a member of the ACON legal working group, the Lesbian and Gay Legal Rights Service and a lawyer acting for several men who have been charged with offensive behaviour.

Last week a magistrate found that one of Grogan’s clients believed the police who arrested him at a beat were “interested”, but still found that the conduct was offensive “because”, Grogan says, “it was an area in which the public might go – although they don’t”.

Grogan said: “In recent cases people have all been dealt with by section 556A of the Crimes Act which is where the offence is proven but no conviction is recorded.”

“That highlights how absurd all of this is. Often these people may well be married or it’s a great embarrassment for them at work. They’ve been put through the stress of being arrested, and fingerprinted and photographed and dragged through a court proceeding and very personal things are talked about.

“The magistrate believes that they (the offender) thought the police were genuinely interested – there was nobody else around – and they get no punishment (from the court).

“It’s a waste of everybody’s time and energy and it forms magistrates’opinions of what gay men are like because that’s their principal point of contact with them. It forms a lot of gay men’s opinions of police officers and magistrates because it’s their first contact with them.

“This practice is discriminatory.”

He also says that to call a beat a public place is a “furphy”.

“It’s irrelevant because it’s not a question of whether people can see (the offensive behaviour) – the only people who see (it) are police officers who deliberately go undercover and know what they’re looking for and go looking for it.

“I’ve never seen any cases where there’s been a civilian witness and that says something to me about the circumstances about the offence.”

And because many of Sydney’s hundreds of beats are on council property, ACON workers would like councils to have a deeper understanding of the AIDS council’s work.

The beats outreach workers say that in order to get the message across, ACON needs more resources.

Peter Kerans says: “This work is being done on a shoestring because funding authorities still see beats as a way of HIV entering from the infected community into the general population through bisexual men. So for that reason they’re hedging their bets by funding to a certain extent but not funding it to the extent where you can actually do all the things you want to do like work with councils, police and cover Sydney effectively, which we don’t.”

Kerans says: “I think there’s still a prevailing philosophy of trying to stop beat behaviour but we know it’s always gone on – there are beats in Europe that have been known for centuries – they go on and they’ll always be around.”

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Council Considers Condom Machines To Counter Aids

Sydney Morning Herald — posted on www.lavatories.com.au

Monday October 20, 1986

By TRACEY AUBIN, Civic Reporter

Sydney City Council will consider installing condom-vending machines in lavatories under its control and supporting the provision of clean, disposable syringes to intravenous drug users.

Details of the counter-AIDS measures, proposed by Alderman Brian McGahen(Independents’ Alliance), will be circulated to all aldermen this week and a report will be considered by council’s health committee at a later meeting.

According to Alderman McGahen, more than half the cases of AIDS diagnosed in Australia had come from the Sydney area. “The widespread use of condoms in casual sexual activity and amongst the high-risk groups is the most effective way to prevent sexual transmission,” Alderman McGahen told the health committee last night.

“Likewise, ending the sharing of needles by intravenous drug users is the single most important step that can slow the spread by blood-to-blood transmission.”

Alderman McGahen has also proposed anti-discriminatory measures for people with AIDS.

Under his proposal, Meals on Wheels, child care services, swimming pools and libraries would be available to AIDS carriers on the basis that there was no scientific reason to reject their access.

Alderman McGahen also called for an immediate large increase in the number of beds in special AIDS units, the provision of a hospice to care for people with AIDS and a health education program.

Victorian health authorities have moved to head off what they fear will be the next wave of AIDS by making sterile syringes readily available to drug users. The national AIDS task force has joined the pharmaceutical society in urging pharmacists not to baulk at selling the syringes to addicts.