Why I agree with banning the police from this year's Mardi Gras parade

The LGBTQ+ community has simply lost faith in the NSW Police Force, and with good reason, writes Joe Attanasio.


Mardi Gras season has long been dubbed ‘gay Christmas’ — a celebrated and inclusive event that millions all over the country excitedly look forward to each year.

But this time around, days out from the annual parade that will on Saturday see hundreds of thousands of people descend on Oxford Street in Sydney, emotions are raw.

Almost everyone by now would've heard the devastating news that the bodies of missing Sydney couple Jesse Baird and Luke Davies were found in a shallow grave at a rural NSW property on Tuesday afternoon, days after they were allegedly dumped there by accused double murderer, serving NSW Police officer Beau Lamarre-Condon.

Although the harrowing discovery marked the end to a week-long investigation to locate the pair, it has left behind a plethora of questions facing NSW Police, and not just from within their own divisions.

Jesse Baird and Luke Davies on Instagram.
Jesse Baird and Luke Davies were allegedly murdered by serving NSW Police officer Beau Lamarre-Condon. Source: Instagram.

Why police should sit this year out

Earlier this week, police were uninvited from the Mardi Gras parade, and while I felt sad for the queer officers within the force, with it taking place merely metres from Jesse's home, I agreed with the committee that it was the right call to make under the circumstances.

The vast majority of police men and women are decent, hard-working public servants who put their lives on the line every day, but the more I think about it, the less I see a need for the force to be in the parade as a collective at all and, I'm wondering whether officers are simply better suited marching permanently in a private capacity with their own individual communities.

Particularly given the strained relationship between queer people and NSW Police when it comes to the Mardi Gras, which dates back to a protest in June 1978. That first night, 53 gay men and women were beaten and arrested at the hands of officers, simply for championing acceptance. Dozens more were brutally bashed.

Anti-police in pride protesers on Oxford St in Sydney.
NSW Police officers were formally uninvited from the Mardi Gras parade earlier this week, but the committee backflipped on that decision and now officers will march in plain clothes. Source: Associated Press

The following morning The Sydney Morning Herald published the names, addresses and occupations of those arrested. As a result, many were fired and kicked out of home. Others, unable to overcome the avalanche of hate pedalled towards them, died by suicide soon after.

On Wednesday, it was announced officers will now march, but will remain in plain clothes "in consideration of current sensitivities". But I think that's wrong.

It's a privilege to march in the parade, not a right. I think those in the upper echelons of the NSW Police force have a lot of self-reflection to do, and a lot to answer for toward a community that is right now, really hurting.

After bodies found, NSW Police still have a lot to answer for

Horrific, crushing, senseless and brutal are just some of the words that have been used to describe the chilling events that took place in the last week.

Events that have dominated the news cycle here in Australia, made global headlines and have left the queer community feeling enraged, vulnerable and suffering a profound sense of loss.

And we're not just mourning the deaths of a young and in-love couple who had their whole lives ahead of them, we're also mourning every other queer person that's ever been killed, beaten or abused by someone that should've been protecting them — be that a police officer or otherwise.

Jesse Baird and Luke Davies on Instagram.
Jesse Baird and Luke Davies are being remembered for their kindness, generosity and their love of each other. Source: Instagram

We're not just angry about how police have, yet again, failed in their duty of care to protect young gay people from those seeking to do them harm.

We're not just angry about how a serving police officer allegedly murdered two young gay men and the state's Police Commissioner Karen Webb thought it best to wait three whole days to make a public address. Webb, who is facing intense criticism over her handling of the investigation into the alleged murders, recited a lyric from a Taylor Swift song in response to her "haters".

While obviously facing gruelling daily challenges in her role, one would think NSW's most senior police officer would be able to generate a more empathetic response to grieving families and an entire community — many of whom are, frankly quite rightly, upset with her. It's also hard to imagine a similar time frame to front media if the murdered couple in question were heterosexual.

Flowers seen outside Jesse Baird's Paddington address.
A growing memorial has been established outside Baird's Paddington address, in Sydney's inner-east. Source: NCA

Earlier this week Webb described the gruesome alleged murders as "a crime of passion", a statement she later attempted to justify as a way to separate the incident from gay hate. But her language perpetuates some of the most harmful attitudes towards domestic violence, that "love makes us do crazy things". And it is clumsy language like that which has featured regularly throughout the investigation.

Criticised for saying officers "were very grateful" to Lamarre-Condon for allegedly providing information that led to the bodies, Webb then said the issue police were trying to highlight throughout this tragedy was the underreporting of domestic-related crimes in the community.

Report highlights police failures in investigating gay hate crimes

Yet why would any queer person in NSW feel comfortable reporting a crime committed against them to the police, who merely months ago was handed down a scathing report into the force's major failures to adequately investigate dozens of deaths since 1970? An inquiry found gay hate bias was a likely factor in 25 of 32 suspected homicides from 1970 to 2010.

As a result, 15 recommendations were given to police. Not a single one of those recommendations has so far been implemented.

Last year, during Sydney's WorldPride celebration, a supercharged version of the Mardi Gras in which 300,000 people descended on the harbour city, my partner at the time and I were verbally abused on the streets of Surry Hills — one of the most gay-friendly suburbs in Australia. During PRIDE.

We were called faggots, intimidated and berated by a stranger while trying to order a pizza at about 11pm.

I immediately called Triple-0, and, to their credit, police officers arrived within minutes. Though after both my partner and I made our statements to a female officer, I then saw a male officer laughing and looking chummy with the man who had just verbally abused us.

That man was told to move on but was allowed to go on about his business for the rest of the evening.

Subtle but significant microaggressions remain within the force

It's these types of incidents, that can often be subtle, which add to the deep-rooted distrust between the LGBTQ+ community and the police.

Queer Australians are frustrated and fed up with NSW Police's consistent lack of enthusiasm when it comes to issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community.

And that it's not just us that feel that way.

The Mardi Gras parade in 2023.
The parade takes place on Sydney's Oxford Street, metres from where Jesse Baird and Luke Davies were allegedly murdered. Source: Associated Press

The sentiment was — astonishingly — echoed in the hate crimes report, where Supreme Court Justice John Sackar detailed how police took an "adversarial or unnecessarily defensive" stance during inquiries, and he "faced significant and unexpected challenges" both with availability of records and the inquiry’s dealings with police.

This was an investigation looking into the literal murders of gay men over a 40-year period.

Issuing a statement on the Mardi Gras flip flop, Webb said she was "committed to continuing to strengthen the relationship between my organisation and the LGBTQIA+ community."

But it remains to be seen what the results of that "commitment" will be in the coming weeks and months.

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