On Saturday, March 2nd thousands of people took to the street to march and celebrate Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras which is considered as one of the world’s largest annual LGBT Pride Events. Unfortunately, not everybody who attended were able to march. On the eve of the parade, early Satuday morning, several people, including a gay couple, reported that they were attacked within the vicinity of the parade route and around the Mardi Gras Festival. The attacks were orchestrated by a group of five individuals and it was reported that the attacks followed a similar pattern. The victims were mugged and then pushed to the ground, kicked and beaten.

Nick Brunnell, a water polo player who plays for the Melbourne Surge was one of the victims, he shared his story with Hack

“I was trying to catch an Uber… but I couldn’t get one so I thought I’d walk up to the main street and that’s when the attack happened,” Nick said. “A group of about five young people surrounded me all of a sudden… one of them punched me and knocked me onto the ground, they then started stomping on my head.”

He said that the group initially demanded he hand over his personal effects, including wallet and phone. When he did, the attack became physical. He went on to report…

“I managed to get away two or three times and each time they ran after me, got me back on the ground and started stomping on my head again.”

Contending with his injuries and trauma from the gay bashing, Nick wasn’t able to march in the pride parade with his Melbourne Surge teammates. He was shocked that this kind of homophobic behavior is still common place and could happen during an event like Gay Mardi Gras.

“I had no idea this happened around Mardi Gras time… I would’ve been a lot more careful, I would’ve left straight into an Uber,” he said. “I would’ve behaved like I probably would in a dangerous foreign city had I known how common these attacks were, I thought Australia was safe and I didn’t think there were these attacks against gay people.”

The NSW Police Force is investigating the attacks, but they do not believe it was a hate-based attack but more as an “opportunistic crime.” Superintendent Andrew Holland reported…

“We’re acknowledging the fact that there may have been gay people walking around given it was Mardi Gras weekend,” he said. “The area has a very strong student community; a lot of those people identify as gay and we’ve never had instances of gay hate crime prior to this.”

Unfortunately, though, anti-gay hate crimes tend to increase around Pride events such as Mardi Gras according to Nicholas Stewart who is a lawyer for LGBTI firm Dowson Turco.

“It’s not unusual unfortunately, the LGBTI community is a vulnerable community and we’re often targeted for assault throughout the year,” he said. “But at Mardi Gras, we are more visible and it’s because we are so proud about our liberation, we are a sexual minority but we are very proud and colourful.”

“Unfortunately that means people who may not agree with us and our lifestyles have chosen to commit crimes against us and that’s happened a lot in history and that still happens today even though we have Marriage Equality.”

In a show of support and solidarity for Brunnell, the Melbourne Surge and the Sydney Stingers released a joint statement.

This past weekend our clubs, the Melbourne Surge and Sydney Stingers Water Polo Clubs, marched together in the 41st Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – a time for our LGBTIQ communities and allies to celebrate the progress we’ve made in drawing closer to equality. As we marched to celebrate our joint purpose for inclusion in sport, we also marched feeling the harsh impact of the reality that some in our society don’t share our vision for equality and inclusion. On the eve of Mardi Gras, one of our own was assaulted by five assailants on the street. He was brutally attacked with malice and ill will, and he wasn’t alone – there were other LGBTIQ individuals attacked that same night. All of this occurring on the streets of a neighbourhood our communities have long called home. As news reached us early Saturday morning, we were shocked, saddened, and infuriated – shocked that one of our own fell victim to this type of hatred, saddened by the impact and toll this would take on him and his loved ones, and infuriated that for all the progress we’ve made, this type of homophobia still exists. So, on Saturday, we resolved to march with additional purpose. We would march in celebration of who we are and who we will continue to be – in the face of those who see us as less than or wish to do us harm. We marched with our own in mind, but also our LGBTIQ siblings further afield that face this kind of hatred and discrimination every day of their lives. We may not have reached that bright future where we’re all treated with the equality and dignity we deserve, but until then, we will continue to march with pride and celebrate our diversity. We will continue to provide a safe and inclusive space for our communities to participate in sport and our community more broadly. At this time, our thoughts and support goes out to Nick Bucknell and we wish him a speedy recovery. For our LGBTIQ siblings that face this type of hatred further afield – we stand with you.

Caleb Hawk
President – Melbourne Surge Water Polo

Stephen Timbrell
President – Sydney Stingers Water Polo

We also hope for a speedy recovery for Nick and the other victims of these horrific anti-gay assaults!

By Dirk Smith