I am now 86 and this is a story of a voyage of discovery over the last 25 years. I had known I was gay from early on in my marriage, but family requirements kept me maintaining a home base until the family was grown up and independent. My marriage ended after 31 years in 1985, and in 1986 I became politically active. I joined socialist groups and started learning about activism and the politics of change, started selling our group’s newspaper and got involved in diverse organisational issues.
On one demonstration in 1988 we ended up in the Domain in Sydney and some people were holding a banner and handing out leaflets about a demonstration outside the British Consulate at Circular Quay a few days later. The demonstration was to protest Margaret Thatcher’s introduction of clause 28, one of the most homophobic pieces of legislation perpetrated by a so-called democratic state. I was 61 years old and trying to come out as a gay man – fairly daunting at that age after a life-time living as a heterosexual in a heteronormative world.
At the demonstration in April 1988 I was invited to attend a meeting of the group at that time called Gay Solidarity at the home of one of the members. Being a gay activist group without means to afford premises for meetings, these were always held at the homes of group members. The person whose home the meeting was in was Peter Collard who was also known as Sister Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, (MMQC) one of the Sisters of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence. He remained a close friend until his untimely death in 2011 at the age of 58.
My activist path increased in leaps and bounds from 1988 onwards, and the politics of the left and gay issues were predominant in my steep learning curve. A major issue during this period was homophobia, leading in many instances to gay, lesbian, transgender and HIV/AIDS (GLTH) hate crimes involving abuse, assault and murder.
We had demonstrations against the series of gay murders in and around Oxford Street, Bondi, Tamarama and other areas around Sydney, and the brutal attitude of the police relating to assaults and murders and their unwillingness to fully investigate and prosecute those guilty of the crimes. It may well be argued that homophobic police were themselves involved in some of these crimes.
In 1999 the web was just becoming available and, with the help of Sister MMQC, I established an online presence with emails and a website. My knowledge was rudimentary, to say the least, and MMQC was patient and helpful in establishing webpages documenting issues with which we were involved.
When we moved to Melbourne in 2001 and help was far away in Sydney, MMQC assisted me – by phone – to learn how to operate the web, and with the help of another Sydney friend who moved to Melbourne soon afterwards, I started to set up a variety of web pages which showed our political interests in a large variety of activist issues.
Among the web pages I started assembling were those on homophobia and GLTH hate crimes, both in Australia and around the world. The amount of material that became available was staggering and it was a big task to be able to put everything on web pages that were required to be there to inform the world of the horrors of homophobia and hate crimes.
What I tried to do on the hate crimes pages was to assemble information in a chronological order, although under certain circumstances that became difficult. If a murder was committed, say, in 1992, and the person who committed the crime only appeared in court some few years later, the report of the court story had to be recorded under the year in which the crime was committed, so the chronology method was not altogether satisfactory.
All of this background is leading up to a series of emails I received last year.
The first email, in early November 2012, was from a journalist/writer, who had seen our hate crimes pages and said the web pages were of great interest and help. He was investigating a death in 1988 of a young gay man who was studying in Sydney but who came from the USA. His name was Scott Johnson and he was found dead at the foot of cliffs in Manly, naked and with his clothes folded neatly at the top of the cliff. The police verdict was suicide.
If Scott’s death were recorded as suicide, we would not have recorded it because ostensibly it wasn’t a hate crime.
The journalist, whose name is Daniel Glick, sent us an article he had written which had appeared in the Weekend Australian some while ago and told the story of Scott Johnson leading up to his death. Scott’s brother Steve in the USA had long doubted the police verdict of suicide and asked Daniel Glick if he would be prepared to carry out further investigations to determine whether Scott’s death was a murder and a hate crime, because at the time suicide seemed a very unlikely scenario for a young man in his late 20s who had just completed a doctorate in Mathematics from a Sydney university.
There was also an article by a local writer and journalist, Garry Wotherspoon, which told much the same story as Daniel Glick had uncovered.
The results of further enquiries and investigations between Dan Glick and Scott’s brother Steve resulted in the original verdict of suicide being overturned and an open verdict provided. This opened the door for new police investigations and the offer of a reward of about $100,000 for further information leading to a conclusion in the search for the truth of what happened to Scott Johnson.
On 11 February 2013 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation featured Scott Johnson in an episode of Australian Story, a half hour program of people and events in Australia. This episode, ‘On the Precipice’, featured the story of Scott Johnson and those he was involved with and also told the story of his brother Steve’s search for the truth.
Steve attended the 2013 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade in Sydney in March and there is a short video of his visit and an interview he gave at the time.
The journalist involved, Dan Glick, wanted to know whether there were other hate crimes committed around that time north of Sydney Harbour, because there were records of murders taking place between Bondi and Tamarama beach in the 1980s and 1990s and the police involvement in finding the perpetrators of those terrible crimes, but there didn’t seem to be the same records of hate murders and hate crimes north of Sydney Harbour.
Journalists and writers wrote articles and books about these homophobic crimes and many of the perpetrators are still walking around, having not been apprehended and tried for the murders.
Police homophobia over the years – and still ongoing – hasn’t helped get to the bottom of these crimes and it seems that many were happening north of Sydney Harbour in the same way they were happening south of the Harbour.
There have been a few policemen who were not satisfied with the investigations and have since persevered to establish task forces to investigate many of the murders which are now cold cases.
This whole story is, unfortunately, a work in progress and as long as homophobia is propagated by religions and the state, hate crimes will continue in Australia and around the world.
While I am still able to, I will continue to document such events on our web pages so that everybody will know about these heinous crimes, aided and abetted by the societies we live in in the twenty-first century. I am now 86 and my partner is 90 (we have been together for 20 years) and we both still endeavour to draw attention to the iniquities perpetrated against the GLTH and the wider communities.
References for more reading
Bondi Badlands, by Greg Callaghan (2007)
The Beat – A True Account of the Bondi Gay Murders, by IJ Fenn (2006)
List of Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, HIV/AIDS Hate Crimes in Australia