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Queer Fear in the Criminal Justice Sphere

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

If someone harmed you, where would you go for help? If you were harassed on the street, who could offer support? If you felt unsafe, for any reason, who would protect you? For most, the answer to these questions is simple: the police, of course.

But, what if the person who harmed you, was a police officer? What if the person who harassed you, was in the room when you reported the incident? What if the very reason you felt unsafe, was the police force itself? If you could not rely on the police to provide you with a sense of security or protection – where would you turn, instead?

For many, this is a hypothetical – something that may come up in Philosophy 101, or a legal issues class. For others, this is a reality so normalised that the anxiety felt when a blue and white uniform appears in the distance – the sudden surge of adrenaline, the posture change, the vocal shift – goes completely unnoticed.

Many communities have problematic relationships with police forces; this has been made increasingly clear through the recent Black Lives Matter movements across the world. These movements, stemming from systemic racism and police violence perpetrated towards Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour, has raised the voices of all demographics which have been targeted by discriminatory policing practices.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other gender/sexually diverse (LGBTQ+) communities have a particularly fraught relationship with police. In Victoria, this relationship has been informed through several key moments in history.

For instance, the 1994 raid on the Tasty Nightclub in Melbourne. During this raid, LGBTQ+ patrons were forcefully strip and cavity searched in public, while those who protested were taken away and reportedly not seen for the remainder of the night. [1]

A more recent incident of police misconduct towards LGBTQ+ people was in 2019, when officers raided the Hares and Hyenas bookshop in Fitzroy; a popular gay bookshop owned and run by Nik Dimopolous. [2] This raid resulted in Dimopolous’ arm being severely broken. In the Supreme Court of Victoria, it was argued that Dimopolous was assaulted, battered, and falsely imprisoned by Victoria Police officers. Whilst it was determined that the police did not use excessive force on Mr Dimopolous, this incident had a significant impoact on how many LGBTQ+ people viewed Victoria Police and their treatment of Queer people.

Early in 2020, several Victoria Police officers were transferred, suspended, and charged with criminal offences, relating to the distribution of photos of ex-footballer and former AFL coach Dani Laidley in custody. [3] These photos were aimed at ridiculing Laidley’s performance of a non-heteronormative gender identity as a trans woman, and demonstrated that the deeply rooted traditions of homo/transphobia within the force still exist.

The historic and ongoing mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people by Victoria Police has created a significant amount of distrust in its officers among the LGBTQ+ communities. This distrust runs so deeply than many LGBTQ+ people report actively avoiding police whenever possible. [4] The problem, then, lies in the role that Victoria Police plays in our justice system.

Accessing justice

Victoria Police is generally considered to be the gateway to accessing justice. What it means to access justice is a subjective matter, though the process typically involves interacting with a formal body which can offer recourse, such as the courts. Whatever it means to achieve justice for the individual, it is likely that Victoria Police will play some role in this process.

So, what can be done, when the very people who are tasked with facilitating access to justice, are the one who stand in the way – or worse, who caused the injustice in the first place?

For many LGBTQ+ people, living silently with their experiences of crime is a harsh reality. Studies routinely find that LGBTQ+ people chronically underreport victimisation, as they fear that they will be ridiculed or turned away by police when reporting crimes. [5] Research also finds that if LGBTQ+ people report, it is likely that they will have their experiences misclassified – for example, hate crimes being recorded as assaults, or intimate partner violence being misconstrued as a dispute between housemates or friends. [6]

Addressing the issue

Some scholars argue that officers should undergo sensitivity training so that they are better equipped with knowledge to help LGBTQ+ people, however, this is a contentious recommendation. [7] Others argue that mandatory sensitivity training about LGBTQ+ issues for officers who already hold homo/transphobic beliefs, can create more hostility and danger for the communities which it seeks to benefit. [8]

In response to this recommendation paradox, an alternative to mandatory sensitivity training has been introduced in several states in Australia (including Victoria), in the form of Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers (GLLOs). These officers – who often identify as LGBTQ+ themselves – undergo specific sensitivity training and are then used to help other uniformed officers liaise with LGBTQ+ people and organisations.

Effective in theory? Absolutely.

Effective in practice? Perhaps not.

Many LGBTQ+ people report that despite being aware of the GLLO programme, they are still reluctant to interact with the police. [9] This is, in part, because asking to speak with a GLLO in a police station inherently requires one to ‘come out’ to the police officers on duty. Considering their fraught relationship with police, it is unsurprising that LGBTQ+ people are not eager to seek out GLLOs, and why this reform has not been as successful as hoped.

So, what next?

Recommendations have reached a clear impasse, and reforms have been demonstrably ineffective in increasing the trust in Victoria Police among LGBTQ+ people. Moving forward, several steps must be taken by researchers and Victoria Police alike.

Research must consider the voices of LGBTQ+ people, to determine what they believe would make accessing justice a more achievable and safe process, for the communities. Whether this involves introducing a third-party body in place of liaison officers, or reforming how GLLOs can be contacted, must be better understood.

Furthermore, while Victoria Police have issued several apologies for officer misconduct towards LGBTQ+ people, [10] ongoing incidents of homo/transphobia lead us to question the sincerity of the organisation’s commitment to creating a better relationship with, and protecting, LGBTQ+ people. Victoria Police must address the heteronormative blindsides which permeate the institution, its training, and its culture, which allow for such incidents to occur.

Recognising the historic and ongoing mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people by Victoria Police is imperative in creating a safer and more comfortable environment in which members of these communities can access justice. Understanding the fraught history between the two groups makes it clear that committed, holistic, and purposeful changes must be made to the processes of Victoria Police, in order to ensure that LGBTQ+ people can access justice equitably and safely. Indeed, this is true for many (perhaps all) diverse and marginalised groups which have a problematic relationship with police. While each of these groups are in many ways independent, they are united through a discourse of exclusion and fear in the criminal justice sphere.


[1] Russell 2015.

[2] Thomas 2020.

[3] McIver 2019.

[4] Fileborn 2019.

[5] Guadalupe-Diaz 2016.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Cannon & Dirks-Linhorst 2006.

[8] Coderoni 2002.

[9] Leonard & Fileborn 2018.

[10] Nicholls 2004; Hirst 2019.

Reference List:

Cannon, K & Dirks-Linhorst, A 2006, ‘How Will They Understand if We Don’t Teach Them? The Status of Criminal Justice Education on Gay and Lesbian Issues’, Journal of Criminal Justice Education, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 262-278,

Coderoni, G 2002, ‘The relationship between multicultural training for police and effective law enforcement’, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, vol. 71, no. 11, pp. 16-18,

Fileborn, B 2019, ‘Policing youth and queerness: the experiences and perceptions of young LGBTQ+ people from regional Victoria’, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 433-451,

Guadalupe-Diaz, X 2016, ‘Disclosure of Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence to Police among Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals’, Social Currents, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 160-171,

Hirst, J 2019, ‘Victoria Police’s top cop apologises to LGBTIQ community’, QNEWS, June,

Leonard, W & Fileborn, B 2018, ‘Policing for same sex attracted and sex and gender diverse (SSASGD) young Victorians’, Monograph Series No 110 Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne,

McIver, D 2019, ‘Melbourne police break man’s arm in mistaken arrest in Fitzroy’s Hares and Hyenas bookshop’, ABC News, 12 May,

Nicholls, T 2014, ‘Victoria Police apologise for 1994 raid on Tasty nightclub to ‘make up for sins of the past’, ABC News, 5 August,

Russell, E 2015, ‘Revisiting the Tasty Raid: Lesbian and Gay Respectability and Police Legitimacy’, Australian Feminist Law Journal, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 121-140,

Thomas, S 2020, ‘Transphobia: Victoria Police officer stood down over leaked photos of arrested coach Dean Laidley’, Star Observer, 4 May 2020,

Victoria Police Manual: Policy Rules - Professional and Ethical Standards (2016),

Image: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

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