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The thinning blue line

8 December 2021 at 4:25 pm
Nevena Spirovska
Nevena Spirovska reflects on the findings of the recently released Victorian Pride Lobby’s Police Attitudes Survey and the need for systemic reform.

Nevena Spirovska | 8 December 2021 at 4:25 pm


The thinning blue line
8 December 2021 at 4:25 pm

Nevena Spirovska reflects on the findings of the recently released Victorian Pride Lobby’s Police Attitudes Survey and the need for systemic reform.

Victoria Police apparently don’t understand or respect LGBTIQA+ people. 

The police are more likely to be seen as hostile and aggressive than helpful or supportive. LGBTIQA+ community members believe they treat LGBTIQA+ people unfairly, abuse their powers, and cannot be trusted. 

Consequently, many LGBTIQA+ people do not feel safe around Victoria Police members and won’t go to the police when they are victimised.

Those are the alarming findings of the recently released Victorian Pride Lobby’s Police Attitudes Survey. 

It follows earlier reports from last month that members of Victoria Police have once again allegedly targeted Dani Laidley, trans woman and former AFL coach, in a series of transphobic group chat messages. 

So it should come as no surprise then that, according to the 1,403 LGBTIQA+ Victorians in the survey (the largest of its kind), Victoria Police has a systemic problem with homophobia and transphobia. 

As one survey respondent said: “There are always a few good and/or friendly ones [police], but they are in the minority and get drowned out.”

The survey was carried out in the second half of 2020, and has formed the basis of a newly released report, Upholding our rights: LGBTIQA+ attitudes towards and experiences of policing in Victoria, by the Victorian Pride Lobby.

The report acknowledges there have been some hard-won advances in improving the relationship between LGBTIQA+ Victorians and the police, including the then-chief commissioner Graham Ashton’s historic apology to our communities in 2019 for Victoria Police causing “unacceptable harm”.   

However, other recent events remain front of mind for many LGBTQIA+ people. Namely, two high-profile cases: the violent police raid on the Hares & Hyenas bookstore in 2019; and the vilification of former AFL coach Dani Laidley in 2020

More than half (58.2 per cent) of survey respondents said the Hares & Hyenas raid – where police mistakenly arrested and seriously injured Nik Dimopoulos – deterred them from seeking police help. In a finding called “legally contradictory”, Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission found the human rights of Dimopoulos were “impacted” but Victoria Police conduct was “lawful and reasonable”. In a media interview, Victorian Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said he was “proud” of the police.  

The vilification of Laidley by 39 police officers who circulated images of her arrest had a dramatic impact on LGBTIQA+ people’s attitudes towards Victoria Police. 

More than half (53.9 per cent) said the Laidley case deterred them from seeking police help. In addition, 91.8 per cent of LGBTIQA+ people surveyed said it made them feel police officers lacked awareness about trans and gender-diverse people.

But LGBTIQA+ perceptions of Victoria Police were also influenced by personal experience.

Reporting on their direct dealings with Victoria Police, less than one-in-three (31 per cent) survey respondents said police were respectful. In contrast, almost half (47.2 per cent) said police were disrespectful, more than half (53.9 per cent) said police were hostile or aggressive, and four-in-10 (43 per cent) said police were homophobic or transphobic. 

Given those experiences, it’s no surprise that 80.2 per cent of respondents said they did not feel safe if there was a large police presence at LGBTIQA+ events. Nor is it surprising that the vast majority (75.2 per cent) of LGBTIQA+ people surveyed believed Victoria Police members should not march in uniform at the Midsumma Pride March.

The community perception that Victoria Police is systemically homophobic and transphobic is supported by evidence. 

Senior members of Victoria Police discriminate against fellow officers for being LGBTQIA+. A 2019 report by then-Victorian equal opportunity and human rights commissioner Kristen Hilton found that many LGBTQIA+ police officers experienced discrimination from mid-ranking senior members of Victoria Police and that: “Homophobia, transphobia and a hypermasculine and heteronormative culture continue to drive workplace harm behaviours against some LGBTI employees.”

The Police Attitudes Survey highlights the urgent need for systemic reform. There are growing calls from LGBTIQA+ people in Melbourne, and around the world, for police to be held to account for the documented abuses of power and acts of violence against our community. 

Here in Victoria, that includes whether or not the police should march in uniform at our annual Pride Parade. But that conversation must be seen for what it is: a symptom of a strained, increasingly complicated relationship between Victoria Police and the LGBTIQA+ community.  

That relationship is neither even, nor balanced. While we have a clear list of recommendations for Victoria Police, the onus is on that organisation to do more to improve its interactions with our community. Without real reform, the LGBTQIA+ community cannot trust Victoria Police.

Nevena Spirovska  |  @ProBonoNews

Nevena Spirovska is an LGBTIQA+ activist, campaigner and proud community volunteer. She has dedicated herself to the for-purpose sector and has been highly engaged with grassroots movements and campaigns supporting LGBTIQA+ equality, human rights, and addressing the drivers of structural disadvantage. Twitter: @NevenaSpirovska

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