Witness details indifference to gay hate

NSW Police showed indifference then exacted revenge against an academic who was bashed outside a gay nightclub in Sydney more than 50 years ago, an inquiry has been told.

Historian, activist and author Garry Wotherspoon - the first witness in the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes - detailed the lack of action by police to find the youths who assaulted him and his then-partner in 1970.

Mr Wotherspoon suffered facial injuries and his partner's nose was broken after they were attacked while walking to their car near a gay dance in Petersham, in Sydney's inner west.

Police on the night declined to help, saying they were "busy" and referring the bloodied pair to the local station.

When the academic's account of the incident - without any references to homosexuality - hit the city's media, "all hell broke loose" over concerns for law and order.

The police then reached out to meet Mr Wotherspoon on the following Saturday night, saying they might "have found people who might be instrumental" in the incident, he said.

"Two uniformed officers ... took me out to the Camp dance and walked me through the Dispensary Hall," he said.

"I think it was done discretely to humiliate someone who had brazenly spoken out against them and to show everyone else they (the police) knew they were there.

"I was never invited back to the Camp dance."

The inquiry's counsel Peter Gray is seeking information on 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.

NSW Police in 2018 acknowledged "without qualification" that it accepted gay bashings and shocking violence directed towards men and the LGBTQI community.

A key finding in a parliamentary report that led to the inquiry noted NSW Police "failed in its responsibilities to properly investigate" gay and transgender hate crimes.

Mr Wotherspoon said he thought for many years about the 1970 attack - the first in three gay-hate bashings over his lifetime.

"The intriguing thing about it was when the bashing of me ended, the guy who was doing it said 'no hard feelings, mate'," he told the inquiry.

"It meant it was sport to them - I've pondered for years and years and years on the meaning of that, for him and me."

He described his second bashing in 1987 as "just another night in the life of being gay" and praised the response of two young police officers when attacked for a third time in 1997.

That changed attitude signified a major difference in police training and attitudes since 1970, he said.

Homosexual conduct was decriminalised in NSW in 1984.

One of the pre-eminent researchers on gay culture in Sydney, Mr Wotherspoon said the infamous Grim Reaper AIDS advertisement "certainly heightened the overt abuse" of gay and lesbian people.

The ad depicted the Grim Reaper in a bowling alley bowling over men, women, and child "pins" which represented AIDS victims.

"Poofter bashers (were) always there, this gave them an extra reason ... a justification, for what they were doing," Mr Wotherspoon said.

As society's knowledge of AIDS increased, he noticed a massive increase in gay bashings but few substantial responses from institutions, such as the police.

The inquiry continues.