“There was an escalating feeling that the police weren’t finding what they were looking for. They knew they couldn’t find anything. They were getting angry.”
In the early hours of 7 August 1994, Victoria Police raided Tasty, a nightclub in Melbourne’s CBD with a predominately queer clientele. Hundreds were strip-searched under the pretence of a drug search. The police didn’t find a thing.
Ron Van Houwelingen is now a Melbourne LGBTI activist, but in 1994, he was a 27-year-old hospitality worker and Tasty regular. “You went down a laneway and the thumping music would get louder. It was a place for gays, lesbians, trans people, drag queens, artists – it was a place for freaks!” He describes the mood at Tasty as one of euphoria, of celebration. “We’d survived the ’80s, losing our friends to HIV. This was the start of something else.”
The venue managers had been tipped off several weeks prior that there would be a raid, but according to Van Houwelingen, no one had anticipated its scale. “Before it happened, it was just another fun night. The bar staff seemed apprehensive but the party went on.
“I happened to be in the ladies toilets, about 2am, with a friend having a chat. Suddenly we heard sirens and a female police officer stormed in and immediately separated my friend and me.”
What happened next was an ordeal that went for hours. Each of the 463 patrons at Tasty was made one-by-one to strip and bend over for Victoria Police to perform a search.
“I was one of the first to be stripped”, said Van Houwelingen, “but there were a couple of hours before of just standing with our hands against the wall, waiting to be searched. Anytime you got tired and your hands would slip, an officer would yell out: ‘Hey faggot! Hands back on the wall!’”
There was an added level of humiliation for Tasty’s drag queens and trans patrons, who were also forced to undergo a full strip-search.
By the time everyone was out of the club, a group of patrons had already begun planning their next move. Among the group was Melbourne lawyer Gary Singer, who mobilised activists to meet at LGBTI radio station Joy FM’s studios the next day. “We knew it was wrong, so we started the ball rolling, making some noise”, said Van Houwelingen.
The media backlash around the event was an embarrassment for the Kennett government at the time. There was disbelief in the LGBTI community and the wider public. Singer led a successful class action for some 250 Tasty patrons, on the grounds of false imprisonment and assault, winning each $10,000.
Tasty wasn’t the last time police assaulted queers in Australia. Last year, NSW police assaulted Jamie Jackson Reed, a young gay man attending Sydney’s Mardi Gras. The incident was followed some days later by a march of 1,500 people to a Sydney police station, against police brutality. Police around the country now routinely employ gay and lesbian liaison officers, but it’s clear from recent incidents like the one involving Jackson Reed that these liaison officers are nothing more than pinkwashing.
The police have a long history of terrorising the queer community. The first Mardi Gras itself was a political protest commemorating the Stonewall Riots. Although the protesters had originally obtained a permit to march, this was revoked, and the police violently suppressed the demonstration, arresting 53 people.
For many decades, day-to-day harassment of LGBTI individuals was par for the course. As homosexuality was widely criminalised until the 1980s, many men who were arrested for homosexuality still have that charge listed on their record.
Recently, Victoria Police apologised for the Tasty raid. While Van Houwelingen welcomed the apology, he had mixed feelings. “Why has it taken 20 years?” More than an apology, the best thing to have come out of Tasty is the lesson that our strength lies in our ability to struggle collectively. For the patrons at Tasty, collectivity was something learned through the AIDS crisis. “AIDS was the reason we became active. There was a general camaraderie based on lost members of the community, lost friends. We were already a wounded community, but that gave us our strength.”
“On the day of my mother’s funeral, I went home and wrote reports”, Kate says. She’s a public high school teacher and, along with 20,000 others, many also from Catholic schools, she’s gone on strike for the fourth time in seven months to demand better pay and reduced workloads from the New South Wales government.
Nurses and midwives in New South Wales have rejected the state government’s insulting offer of a 3 percent pay rise in a combative, all-membership meeting at Sydney’s Town Hall.
Fifteen years ago, the John Howard federal Coalition government launched a military invasion and occupation of Aboriginal townships and lands in the Northern Territory. More than 600 military and police personnel, accompanied by a phalanx of government bureaucrats, entered 73 Aboriginal communities, placing them under the unilateral control of the Australian army.
Around the US, tens of thousands have hit the streets slamming the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established abortion as a right. In Manhattan, a large crowd of young, multiracial activists marched, chanting “Fuck the Supreme Court!”
In the late 1960s, cryptic notes began to appear on poles and noticeboards around Chicago, directing women who were pregnant and in trouble to “call Jane”. The number provided connected them to the Jane Collective (officially the Abortion Counselling Service of Women’s Liberation), an underground network of activists providing illegal abortions in the years before the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. This collective is the subject of The Janes, a new HBO documentary directed by Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin.
Anthony Albanese started his victory speech on election night with a commitment that his government would implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, beginning with a referendum to create an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in its first term.