LGBTI discrimination still rife inside Victoria police, commission finds

Calla Wahlquist


A damning report into homophobia in the Victoria police has found that discriminatory comments are still accepted as workplace “banter”, with the most serious discrimination perpetuated by long-serving senior officers.

The report by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) found that many LGBTI police officers had experienced discrimination at the hands of mid-ranking senior officers but the hierarchical nature of the organisation meant that discrimination was unchecked.

The report was commissioned by Victoria police as an attempt to make the organisation a safe and inclusive workplace for LGBTI staff. It was released as police are facing significant criticism over a botched raid on queer bookshop Hares & Hyenas, which left one man with a badly broken and potentially permanently damaged arm.

The assistant police commissioner Luke Cornelius apologised for the raid, and it is now subject of an internal police investigation and a review by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

Related: 'Looking Middle Eastern': Victoria police accused of racial profiling in arrest that broke man's arm

The VEOHRC commissioner, Kristen Hilton, said that despite commitment from senior officers to address the issue, “homophobia, transphobia, and a hypermasculine and heteronormative culture continues to drive workplace harm behaviours against some employees”.

The lack of trust in police internal reporting systems and fear of reprisals or exposure also meant many incidents went unreported.

Some LGBTI police officers told VEOHRC they had been told by senior police that “I would have taken you out the back and flogged you back in my day”, and “in my day, we took people like you out the back of the station and beat you with a hose”.

Another LGBTI officer said they were the only person in the room not to laugh when a senior sergeant made a joke about “shooting homos and fags”.

“Currently, those who are likely to make homophobic, transphobic or inappropriate comments with regards to one’s sexuality are … masculine males communicating with other masculine males, or ‘old wood’ [who are] otherwise known as old leading senior constables, sergeants or senior sergeants, who have an outdated and old way of thinking,” one person told the commission.

“Where it bottlenecks is somewhere in the middle, the people with the power in the stations,” another officer said. “If you’ve got more of a traditional policing area and some career sergeants or senior sergeants there, you’ll find those kinds of environments can go unchecked for a long period of time.”

Related: Victoria police must do more to tackle sexual misconduct, chief commissioner says

The public support by the chief commissioner, Graham Ashton, of marriage equality ahead of the 2017 vote was also reported to have triggered a reprisal of homophobic comments from some officers.

Ashton said on Friday he would accept all the recommendations in the report and warned police that homophobia and transphobia would not be tolerated.

“There is no place for discrimination and harassment at Victoria police,” he wrote in a foreword to the report. “Those who believe otherwise will be identified and held accountable.”

An earlier inquiry into sexual harassment in the Victoria police found gay police officers were being sexually harassed by colleagues at six times the rate of heterosexual male police officers.

Lesbians were also more likely to be harassed than other women. Rates of transgender and intersex discrimination were not reported.

The report found officers were unlikely to report discrimination or harassment because they did not trust their complaint would be kept confidential and they feared reprisals.

“Until such time that those that treat LGBTI members poorly are properly disciplined, not just a ‘talking to’, there will always be mistrust in the organisation,” one officer said.

Hilton said homophobic attitudes in the police force were a relic of enforcing homophobic laws and contributed to ongoing distrust from the broader LGBTI community.

In 2014, the Victoria police apologised for a raid on the Tasty nightclub in 1994 when more than 400 people were arrested and strip- and cavity-searched. In 2018, Ashton apologised to past and current LGBTI police officers.