Police joked about rising tide of gay hate

As stories of teen gangs hunting down homosexual men grew with police ignoring the issue, community leader Gary Cox started a project to shine a light on gay hate crimes in Sydney in 1988.

In little more than a month, a "terrifying picture" had emerged, he told an inquiry on Wednesday.

Stories of youth gangs surrounding men and beating them to a pulp, attackers taunting a gay man "we're out to get you" and lesbians attacked by men with razor blades, were among nearly 30 violent attacks reported to a group Dr Cox co-chaired.

"At the time, it was what you had to do because your friends were being affected and you could see a rising tide of violence," he said.

The urban planner and public policy specialist gave evidence at the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTQI hate crimes.

It is investigating historical hate crimes against the queer community, particularly a wave of gay-hate homicides and other crimes in Sydney during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

Dr Cox, who co-convened the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby in the late 1980s, said gathering baseline evidence of the issue helped convince the police there was a problem.

A police gay and lesbian liaison group existed but senior officers in the group dismissed media reports of bashings.

In Dr Cox's presence, one officer joked "the gays were bashing up themselves", while others pointed to a lack of police reports from victims.

"There was a palpable sense of complacency," he told the inquiry.

The lobby's data-led report - titled Streetwatch - showed the majority of victims were physically injured, often beaten about the head, but only went to police half the time.

While half found police friendly or helpful, only a minority told officers they were gay, lesbian or bisexual, leaving police with an incomplete picture.

The report also showed attacks were mostly occurring between 9pm and 3am, Thursday to Sunday - which Dr Cox said helped inform police strategies.

Subsequent reports showed the violence experienced by lesbian women tended to be longer in nature and in places other than the street, such as the workplace.

When leading the gay lobby in 1988, gathering data just seemed like "what had to happen", Dr Cox said.

"Looking back now, I can see it did provide the evidence ... it did change the way this would be looked at."

The inquiry continues.