Inquiry hears of violence at gay beats

Men at a popular Sydney gay beat had to scatter when a car careered towards them "like it was on a kangaroo shoot", an inquiry has heard.

The car's headlights and an apparent spotlight were blazing as the car drove at men at Rushcutters Bay Park in Sydney's east, in the 1990s.

"It was a busy Saturday night and men were scattering everywhere, running like the dickens," Barry Charles said on Tuesday.

The 72-year-old long-time gay rights activist was giving evidence at the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ 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.

Describing himself as a "beats queen", Mr Charles said he was aware that violence against gay men at beats was occurring before the 70s.

He frequented them between 1969 and 1998, visiting at least 40 different ones around Sydney.

"Hanging around for longer than necessary was dangerous, because you knew you could be apprehended, or were in danger of violence and some men were at risk of being exposed as gay," he said.

Mr Charles listed a string of violent acts he witnessed or experienced at beats, telling the inquiry he managed to sprint over the footbridge away from the car at the Rushcutters Bay incident.

"I never saw who was in the car or what they did, because I just ran for it," he said.

As far as he knew, the only way a car could gain access was via a padlocked gate, usually only opened when council workers mowed the lawn.

"So I have always had the belief, rightly or wrongly, that it must have been a raid by police," he said.

In about 1971, at Tempe park in Sydney's inner-west, he saw a group of youths wielding a length of bumper bar as they chased a man down the median strip of the highway.

He himself had been attacked in Alexandria Park, the first time being hit by youths with lengths of white PVC pipe.

They had asked him: "Are you a poofter? Are you a faggot?"

Police were called but he felt they were more interested in what he had been doing, rather than what had happened to him.

Another time an adolescent boy hit him with a tree sapling from the park, which was later the scene of a bashing murder of a gay man.

He outlined his years of activism, noting a gay solidarity Sydney rally in 1973.

Police pushed the marchers back and began arresting people after they decided to lay a wreath at the war memorial, to commemorate gay and lesbian service people.

"The police behaviour that I saw was very traumatic for me," said Mr Charles.

"I regarded it as brutality. I was only a young man at the time, 23 years old. I carried the emotional scars from that event for a long time."

During the early 1980s, the gay community's growing visibility and confidence also meant growing violence against them.

But he rejected opinions that the advent of HIV/AIDS gave rise to more anti-gay violence with it being used as an excuse or justification.

"My personal opinion is that a little too much is made of that relationship," he said.

"I really don't think gangs of suburban youth were very engaged or informed about HIV/AIDS."

The hearing continues.