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In an inquiry into the numerous hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people in Australia between the 1970s and 2000s, a spotlight has brought attention to lesbian targets of the violence.
While most of the evidence and cases involve queer men, Carole Ruthchild gave evidence as the first witness from the lesbian community at New South Wales Special Commission Inquiry -- the commission investigating the hate crimes, according to the Australian Associated Press.
Ruthchild is the former adviser to the attorney general on LGBTQ+ subjects. In 2008, her activism on LGBTQ+ rights led to her being inducted into the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby Hall of Fame.
Although homosexuality had been decriminalized in New South Wales in 1984, it didn't change how queer people were targeted. "Whether you were outrageous or looked just like everybody else and they just happened to know ... you couldn't be out and open and not get a bad response," Ruthchild said.
"We didn't have to hide -- it wasn't the 1950s -- but being in public could draw attention," she explained.
Ruthchild said that men would attack women if the women rejected the men's sexual advances, the Australian AP reports.
"If you weren't there with a man, you were seen as fair game, really," she said. "Even if you were with another woman or several women, men seemed to think it was their right to come and want to buy you a drink -- as if we were just sitting there waiting for a man."
She previously participated in the 1992 Off Our Backs report, which detailed some of the violence that lesbians experienced. Examples noted by the Australian AP included a 23-year-old woman attacked by five men and cut several times with a broken bottle and a 22-year-old who was walking with her partner and called a "dirty f**king dyke" by a man who then punched her in the face.
That young woman waited more than two hours for the police after calling about the attack. The authorities never showed.
Ruthchild said that the attacks on women and men were different in that groups deliberately went around searching for queer male victims to commit "poofter bashings," while violence against queer women was more "opportunistic."
The next phase of the commission's work will focus on the police response to the anti-queer violence.