‘What’s the point?’ Queer cops express anger and upset over Mardi Gras’ ban on police marching

As someone who’s Indigenous, gay and a cop, Joe* is used to copping it on multiple fronts.

But the decision by organisers of this weekend’s Sydney Mardi Gras to uninvite members of the New South Wales Police Force from marching in the iconic parade has delivered a particularly hurtful blow.

“As a blak man, I get painted with the same brush as all blak fullas when one of our mob does something bad,” Joe said. “That’s racism.

“As a gay man, I get painted with the same brush as all LGBTQI+ people when a queer person stands out. That’s homophobia.

“As a cop, I’m now painted with the same brush again when an individual [allegedly] does something bad. But that’s OK, because I’m a cop, and all cops are bad?”

The call came amid growing anger in the LGBTQI+ community over the alleged murders of Luke Davies and Jesse Baird last week by serving police constable Beau Lamarre-Condon.

‘Meant to feel comfortable and included’

As an Indigenous Australian, Joe said he “fights hard for our people” and tries to be “a role model for our young people, showing them there is a future for us”.

“We are strong, we are smart, we can be proud.”

Likewise, as a gay man, he also fights hard for his community and “tries to be strong for us when times are tough”.

“I fly the rainbow flag proudly to show we do not have to be afraid,” he said.

“As a gay blak man in a police uniform, I fight within the organisation for what is right. I work tirelessly to build relationships between the police and my communities.

“But I cannot show this at a place where I’m meant to feel comfortable and included. I cannot be proud of what I have done or who I am because [of the allegations against Mr Lamarre-Condon].”

Excluding the police from Mardi Gras doesn’t build stronger relationships, Joe said, but rather it “tears apart what has been a work in progress for years”.

The deaths of Mr Baird and Mr Davies were “deplorable and gut-wrenching” and there are many questions that deserve answers, he said.

“I am sad for recent events … but we cannot punish the good [cops], [and] for this I am also sad.”

‘A step backwards’

When Chris* became a police officer some 17 years ago, being an out gay cop was a risky prospect.

“When I started, there was no LGBTQIA+ visibility whatsoever, it was very much a case of feeling like you had to hide your identity and that it wasn’t really a safe place for queer people to work.

“There was a belief that there was systemic and a sort of organisational-wide homophobia, so it was tough.

“I mean, some senior officers I served with had joined the force at a time when it was still illegal to be a gay man.”

Much has changed in recent years, with internal LGBTQI+ employee groups in forces across the country, as well as community liaison programs and specialist training initiatives.

Many of those efforts were championed from within by queer cops who sacrificed much to effect broad change, Chris said.

While he “understands how it could be upsetting for people to see police in the parade this year”, Chris worries about the broader and long-term impacts of the decision.

“I don’t know what’s achieved by removing 20 or 30 queer cops from the parade, who are valued members of our community, who are the ones advocating for change and making sure LGBTQIA+ people are receiving the best services possible.

“It’s disheartening that they now suffer from this decision.”

Protest group’s ‘win’

Chris pointed out that the issue of police marching at Mardi Gras is far from new, with activist groups lobbying for a ban for many years.

Pride in Protest is one, describing itself as a “grassroots collective … [that wishes] to restore the protest roots of Mardi Gras and challenge systems of injustice”.

The group last year invited Indigenous Senator Lidia Thorpe to march with them, during which she screamed “f**k the police” and briefly halted the parade by lying on the ground.

Chris accused Pride in Protest of “taking advantage” of the deaths of Mr Davies and Mr Baird in the past week by linking the tragedy to their campaign.

Last night, following the board’s decision, the group took to X, formerly Twitter, to celebrate the “win”, declaring: “After years of campaigning, the 2024 Mardi Gras parade will be cop-free.”

Pride in Protest did not respond to a request for an interview.

Chris was critical of Pride in Protest’s response and said the decision undermines the spirit of inclusivity that the LGBTQIA+ community is known for.

The first time he marched in his police uniform was “one of the proudest days of my policing career”, he said.

“When you reflect on how far we’ve come, as a society and as a police force, it’s a source of pride. To be able to march down the street as a gay cop with your LGBTQIA+ colleagues as well as allies in the force, and to have that moment supported by the police service, is empowering.

“It was a really proud moment for me to be able to take part in.”

Top cop and pollies react

Late on Monday, after an emergency meeting of the Sydney Mardi Gras board, a statement was issued confirming the decision to “request that the police do not march in the 2024 parade”.

“Sydney Mardi Gras along with LGBTQIA+ communities across the country have been devastated by the loss of Jesse Baird and Luke Davies, whose lives were cut short last week,” it said.

“Police have charged a man with their murder, a NSW Police officer who has previously participated in the Mardi Gras parade.”

Police allege Constable Lamarre-Condon used his service pistol to shoot and kill the men inside Mr Baird’s home in Paddington in Sydney’s inner-east.

The men’s bodies were recovered on Tuesday at a property in Bungonia. Police say Lamarre-Condon, who handed himself in on Friday and has been charged with two counts of murder, eventually assisted their efforts to locate the remains.

In addition to a homicide investigation, a professional standards inquiry is underway in a bid to answer several pertinent questions – including how Lamarre-Condon was allegedly able to take home his police-issued gun for several days and why an attempted triple-0 call from Mr Davies’ phone wasn’t followed up on.

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb has come under fire for her response to the tragedy, taking days to speak to the media about the alleged murders and then referring to them as a “crime of passion”.

Commissioner Webb is facing calls to resign over her handling of the matter – a suggestion she described as “offensive”.

On Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Webb said she had had a “fruitful discussion” with Mardi Gras organisers.

“That’s just the starts of a discussion,” she told a press conference. “We will continue to have those discussions.

“I will talk with both the corporate sponsor and some of those officers to see how they feel. Like a lot of us, we have all been rocked. There’s some positives that could come out of participating in Mardi Gras on Saturday but it’s early days and we’ve got a few days left to work through this with Mardi Gras.”

NSW Premier Chris Minns warned the decision could represent a backwards step.

“There are many [LGBTQIA+] members of the NSW Police Force who would have battled prejudice within the workforce,” Mr Minns said.

“I think that police marching in the Mardi Gras parade is an important part of bringing the communities together.”

Alex Greenwich, the independent MP for Sydney and the former convener of Australian Marriage Equality, said police should be allowed to march.

“I want to see them march and I want to see them work with us,” Mr Greenwich told ABC Radio. “They understand the task ahead, they understand the hurt and the pain in the community and they are wanting to take steps to address that.”

But organisers remain firm.

“In recent days many have voiced their concerns to us, particularly regarding feelings of unease at the parade,” the Sydney Mardi Gras board continued in its statement.

“Their concerns centre on whether it can still be a space to protest, celebrate, and advocate for equality, as well as to honour and grieve for those we’ve lost, given the NSW Police’s participation in this year’s event.

“Our community needs space to grieve the loss of Jesse and Luke who, before this tragedy, would have been here celebrating with us at the festival.”

The call has been welcomed by many in the queer community but sparked outrage and concern within police and the government.

“We are humans, we are representative of the community we serve and so we should be there,” Commission Webb told The Daily Telegraph.

Sydney Mardi Gras did not respond to a request for an interview.

* Names changed as serving officers aren’t authorised to speak to the media

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