Australian inquiry probes 40 years of gay hate killings

Nov 1, 2022, 12:16 PM | Updated: Nov 2, 2022, 12:17 am
FILE - Steve Johnson, brother of U.S. murder victim Scott Johnson, hugs his wife Rosemarie as they ...

FILE - Steve Johnson, brother of U.S. murder victim Scott Johnson, hugs his wife Rosemarie as they arrive at the Supreme Court in Sydney, May 2, 2022, for a sentencing hearing in the murder of Scott. A government inquiry began hearing evidence on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, of unsolved deaths resulting from gay hate crime over four decades in New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, where police were notoriously indifferent to such violence. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, FILE)

(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, FILE)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A government inquiry began hearing evidence on Wednesday of unsolved deaths resulting from gay hate crimes over four decades in Australia’s most populous state where police were notoriously indifferent to such violence.

The Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ Hate Crimes in New South Wales is the “first of its kind anywhere in the world,” a lawyer assisting the inquiry, Peter Gray, said at the hearing’s outset in Sydney. The acronym in the title refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people.

Responses from Australian society and its institutions including police to violent LGBTQ deaths had been “sadly lacking,” Gray said.

“All these lives, of every one of these people, mattered. They mattered to them, to their loved ones, and ultimately to all of us. And their deaths matter,” Gray said.

“This special commission, by shining a light on everything that is known and can be found out about what happened, will aim to provide some recognition of the truth,” he added.

Violence against gay men in Sydney was particularly prevalent from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s due to increased hostility and fear stemming from the AIDS epidemic, a previous report by an HIV support group, ACON, found.

Almost half of the 88 “gay hate” and “anti-gay bias” deaths in New South Wales between 1976 and 2000 occurred in that period, the report said.

They include Scott Johnson, a 27-year-old Los Angeles-born mathematician whose fatal fall from a Sydney clifftop in 1988 was initially dismissed by police as suicide.

His killer, Scott White, 52, was sentenced in May to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder.

White last week appealed in the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal against that conviction, which was based on his guilty plea that surprised his lawyers during a pretrial hearing in January.

The trial judge rejected the defense lawyers’ application to withdraw his plea.

Gray said because Johnson’s death was still before the courts, his case would not be part of the new investigation.

Johnson’s murder was one of several suspicious deaths highlighted in Australian media since the early 2000s in reports on violence against LGTBQ people.

Australian attitudes toward LGBTQ people changed rapidly in the late 20th century.

In 1958, then-New South Wales Police Commissioner Colin Delaney described homosexuality as the “greatest social menace” in Australia.

The state decriminalized gay sex in 1984 but allowed a so-called “gay panic defense” to charges of murder and other violent crimes until 2014. Also known as the “homosexual advance defense,” a criminal could use the victim making a sexual approach as a partial defense.

The ACON report was mirrored by a police report on the same 88 deaths between 1976 and 2000. Both reports were published in 2018. ACON considers 30 of the 88 deaths still “unsolved.”

The police report only considered 86 deaths, excluding a death that occurred interstate and another that was under active criminal investigation. The police considered only 23 of the 86 cases to be unsolved.

A parliamentary inquiry then widened the timeframe by examining what it described as “gay and transgender hate crimes” between 1970 and 2010. That inquiry found the police force “failed in its responsibilities to properly investigate cases of historical gay and transgender hate crime,” undermining LGTBQ confidence in the criminal justice system.

That inquiry last year recommended the establishment of the current judicial inquiry with powers to force witnesses to testify.

The new inquiry, led by New South Wales Supreme Court Justice John Sackar, will re-examine the 86 deaths during the 24-year window and make its own determination about which ones remain unsolved.

The inquiry has also examined New South Wales files of more than 700 unsolved murders and more than 500 missing persons from 1970 until 2010 for potential gay hate and anti-gay bias killings.

The inquiry must report by June 30 next year. Gray called for anyone with information about suspicious LGTBQ deaths to come forward.

“Justice in these cases has been long-delayed and long-awaited,” Gray said.

“This may be the last chance for the truth about some of these historical deaths to be exposed. We need to hear from anyone who can help us do that,” he added.

Police have made efforts in recent years to mend relations with the LGTBQ community.

Police apologized in 2016 for violently arresting and beating 53 activists who marched at Sydney’s first Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1978. Police now officially take part in the iconic annual event.

“Our relationships today, I would say, are positive and progressive. That was certainly not the case in 1978,” Police Superintendent Tony Crandell said in 2016.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Shoppers looking for bargains enter an OshKosh children clothing store, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in M...
Anne D'Innocenzio and Cora Lewis, Associated Press

Shoppers hunt for deals but inflation makes bargains elusive

Consumers holding out for big deals -- and some much-needed relief from soaring costs on just about everything -- may be disappointed as they head into the busiest shopping season of the year.
13 hours ago
FILE - The Twitter splash page is seen on a digital device, Monday, April 25, 2022, in San Diego.  ...
Associated Press

Musk plans to relaunch Twitter premium service, again

Elon Musk said Friday that Twitter plans to relaunch its premium service that will offer different colored check marks to accounts next week.
13 hours ago
This photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows Kevin Johnson. The Missouri man...
Associated Press

Missouri Supreme Court weighs fate of death row inmate

Kevin Johnson might not be facing imminent execution if he was white, attorneys speaking on his behalf told the Missouri Supreme Court on Monday. Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Parson announced he will not grant clemency. Johnson, 37, is scheduled to die by injection at 6 p.m. Tuesday for killing Kirkwood, Missouri, Police Officer William McEntee in […]
2 days ago
Chinese policemen form a line to stop protesters marching in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protes...
Associated Press

China’s ‘zero-COVID’ limits saved lives but no clear exit

China’s strategy of controlling the coronavirus with lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines has provoked the greatest show of public dissent against the ruling Communist Party in decades. Most protesters on the mainland and in Hong Kong have focused their anger on restrictions that confine families to their homes for months. Global health experts have criticized […]
2 days ago
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron speaks at a news conference on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, in F...
Associated Press

Kentucky AG avoids talk of more exceptions to abortion ban

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s attorney general stood firmly behind the state’s near-total abortion ban Monday, saying he promotes Kentucky values “without fear or favor” though the Republican gubernatorial candidate stopped short of saying whether he supports adding more exceptions to the ban. At a news conference, Daniel Cameron refrained from commenting on calls for […]
2 days ago
FILE - Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, left, and Nancy Pelosi, right, attend "Tony Bennett Celebrates 9...
Associated Press

HBO to air Nancy Pelosi doc shot by daughter Alexandra

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A documentary on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s life and groundbreaking political career, shot and edited by her daughter, will debut on HBO next month. Alexandra Pelosi’s “Pelosi in the House” will premiere Dec. 13 and will include footage shot during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Some of that footage, including moments when […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
Australian inquiry probes 40 years of gay hate killings