Sydney Morning Herald apologises to original 1978 Mardi Gras protesters

NSW parliament to apologise for mistreatment of 78ers a day after Fairfax masthead but NSW police are not joining the chorus

The Sydney Morning Herald has contacted the original Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras protesters, the 78ers, to offer them an historic apology for publishing the names and details of those arrested on its front page in 1978.

The first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras took place on 24 June 1978, when more than 500 people assembled at Taylor Square for a public protest, during which 53 marchers were arrested and many reported suffering violence at the hands of police.

Following the protest, the Sydney Morning Herald published the names, ages and occupations of those arrested.

At a Mardi Gras event on Thursday, 78er Gary Schliemann said the publication of those details caused many 78ers to lose their jobs and forcibly outed many.

In a statement to Guardian Australia, the editor in chief of the Sydney Morning Herald, Darren Goodsir, offered the 78ers an historic apology.

“In 1978, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the names, addresses and professions of people arrested during public protests to advance gay rights,” he said.

“The paper at the time was following the custom and practice of the day. We acknowledge and apologise for the hurt and suffering that reporting caused. It would never happen today.

“We have made contact with representatives of the 78ers so we can apologise in person.”

Guardian Australia understands Goodsir offered the apology to the 78ers on Tuesday.

At the 78er panel on Thursday, 78er Steve Warren dismissed the idea publication of their details was standard practice. “It was rare to publish a whole list of names like that,” he said.

The Fairfax apology comes a day before the NSW parliament will offer an apology to the 78ers.

The Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith announced the apology at Mardi Gras Fair Day on Sunday. He said it would “acknowledge the significance of the events of that [first Mardi Gras] in June 38 years ago; the struggles and harm caused to the many who took part in the demonstration and march, both on that night and in the weeks, months and years to follow”.

Mark Gillespie, a 78er, said he was “deeply, deeply emotional” about the prospect of the parliamentary apology.

“I’m thinking of the people who are no longer around, people who have passed away,” he said. “There’s deep deep pain still that comes out of our generation.”

Kate Rowe, another 78er, said an apology “would be very significant to me because it would be a little bit of closure”.

The 78ers are still pushing for an apology from NSW police.

Asked about the prospect of a NSW police apology, a spokeswoman said, “At this time, this is a matter for consideration by the whole of government.

“However, NSW police has developed rewarding relationships with members and stakeholders within LGBTI communities.”


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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