NSW LGBTIQ hate crime inquiry: NSW Police entrapment exposed Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content

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By Michaela Whitbourn

Ülo Klemmer recalls a striking incident during his five-year stint as an outreach worker at gay beats in Sydney.

It was “very, very early” in his time in the role at ACON, then known as the AIDS Council of NSW, which he took up in 1988.

Former beat outreach worker Ülo Klemmer outside the LGBTIQ hate crimes inquiry this week.

Former beat outreach worker Ülo Klemmer outside the LGBTIQ hate crimes inquiry this week.Credit:Flavio Brancaleone

“I went out to a beat ... to explore whether we should move further afield [from Sydney’s western suburbs, where the outreach program began],” he said.

“I parked the car and two ... very, very good-looking young men were trying to entice me into the bushes. I resisted. They weren’t that good at it; they were very good-looking nonetheless.”

Eventually, Klemmer said, the men approached him in his ACON-marked car to asked what he was doing. Not long after, the organisation was “summonsed to the police station to have a meeting”.

“The head of the police station ... was very, very angry that we had disturbed – I had disturbed – a police operation,” Klemmer told the NSW inquiry into hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people on Thursday.

The practice of police entrapment, or inciting gay men to commit criminal acts, emerged as a theme this week in the world-first inquiry, which completed its first tranche of hearings on Friday. So, too, did instances of police harassment and indifference to violent attacks on the LGBTIQ community in Sydney.

Homosexual sex was decriminalised in NSW in 1984, but there remained a string of offences on the books after this time that could be used by police against the gay community.

Klemmer said police action at beats was counteractive to the safe sex education work ACON was doing at this time.

The 72-year-old was one of 10 witnesses to give evidence this week at the inquiry, which has devoted five days of hearings to sketching the “social, legal and cultural factors affecting the LGBTIQ community” in the 40 years from 1970 to 2010 before it examines a series of suspected hate crimes.

Headed by Supreme Court Justice John Sackar, the inquiry will explore dozens of deaths in NSW during that time after every known unsolved homicide from those years was reviewed – totalling more than 700 cases.

In a statement tendered at the inquiry, Klemmer wrote that the law, having “successfully driven sex between men underground” to beats by criminalising their conduct, “created a double whammy, and took it upon itself to punish these men even further by entrapment, harassment and ignoring many, many murders inspired by this inflicted hate”.

Retired former teacher and potter Les Peterkin, 88, told of his own experience of being entrapped by a young officer in the 1950s in a North Sydney public toilet. The spectre of charges left him “gripped with fear and worry”, but he was able to avoid further action by telling police his father was a serving sergeant in Chatswood.

Historian Garry Wotherspoon, author of Gay Sydney: A History, gave evidence that he “came across a lot of evidence [in his research] of police acting as agent provocateur” dating to the 1930s and ’40s.

“When Britain was considering the implications of the Wolfenden Report [in 1957, which found criminalisation of homosexuality was an impingement on civil liberty], a sociologist was commissioned to write a report on sex in public toilets, and he made a throwaway comment ... that the CID in Sydney employs young attractive detectives to go into these toilets to act as an agent provocateur,” he said.

Garry Wotherspoon outside the LGBTIQ hate crimes inquiry on Monday.

Garry Wotherspoon outside the LGBTIQ hate crimes inquiry on Monday.Credit:Nikki Short

By at least the 1960s, mainstream media outlets were reporting on gang attacks on gay men, the inquiry heard, including a June 1968 article in the Newcastle Morning Herald headlined “‘Hunting in packs must stop’ – Judge.” In December 1988, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on a spate of gang attacks in the city.

A Herald report dated December 17, 1988 on a spate of homophobic attacks.

A Herald report dated December 17, 1988 on a spate of homophobic attacks.

But the inquiry heard police were slow to act on individual complaints, and there was a reluctance in many quarters to report crimes for fear of further harassment. And there remained unsympathetic headlines, including a May 1992 Sun-Herald article about a suburban park said to be “infested with gays”.

Excerpt from The Sydney Morning Herald dated September 15, 1988, tendered at the inquiry.

Excerpt from The Sydney Morning Herald dated September 15, 1988, tendered at the inquiry.

Police scepticism about the scale of the problem led the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby to initiate its own survey, the Streetwatch project, to collect reports between November 1988 and April 1989 of violence and abuse against lesbians and gay men in NSW in a bid to present an evidence base to politicians and police.

Newspaper clipping from Sun-Herald in May 1992, tendered at the LGBTIQ inquiry.

Newspaper clipping from Sun-Herald in May 1992, tendered at the LGBTIQ inquiry.

Carole Ruthchild, a former co-convener of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and contributor to the pivotal Off Our Backs report into anti-lesbian violence in the 1990s, told the inquiry on Friday that there was a “different MO” when it came to attacks on women.

Carole Ruthchild, former co-convener of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, outside the inquiry on Friday.

Carole Ruthchild, former co-convener of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, outside the inquiry on Friday.Credit:Flavio Brancaleone

“Men target women usually in a sexual way,” Ruthchild said. The inquiry heard members of the lesbian community were in some cases unsure if they were targeted because of their sexuality or simply because they were women and had rejected men’s advances.

There were also reports of police failing to come to the aid of women in a timely way, the inquiry heard. “Perhaps it was seen as a low priority,” she said.

Sydney Morning Herald article dated November 24, 1988, tendered at the inquiry.

Sydney Morning Herald article dated November 24, 1988, tendered at the inquiry.

Testimony at the inquiry and historical documents shown in evidence provide a glimpse of an ugly side of Sydney’s life from the 1970s into the 2000s, and it is tempting to believe the sins of the past are not being repeated. But the inquiry is by no means focused solely on historical events.

Eloise Brook, a writer, advocate and academic who is health and communications manager at The Gender Centre in Sydney, gave compelling evidence on Thursday about the transgender and gender-diverse community’s fight for survival amid hostile headlines and “unparalleled” levels of violence.

Dr Eloise Brook outside the LGBTIQ hate crimes inquiry on Thursday.

Dr Eloise Brook outside the LGBTIQ hate crimes inquiry on Thursday.Credit:Flavio Brancaleone

“As our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and siblings were about a decade or two ago, we are in the middle of a civil rights struggle to be able to further the lives of our community,” Brook said.

The inquiry will hold a second tranche of hearings from December 5.

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