The role of masculinity and male honour in gay killings and murder trial outcomes

Criminology Research Council grant ; (19/94-5)

There has been a recent activist, official and media focus on killings of gay men in NSW and the outcome of related criminal trials. However, this form of killing is more widespread than is generally thought and it is not a new type of crime. A survey of murder and manslaughter records for New South Wales since 1980 conducted as part of this research, reveals that at least 74 homicides which could reasonably be termed as gay killings have occurred in that period.

Analysis of court records for the 31 gay-hate killings recorded by the NSW Police Service since 1986 suggest that the evident motives for this violence reflect both elements of homophobia and violent conceptions of heterosexual masculinity. Homophobic hate is directed towards gay and bisexual men who are selected out for assault by assailants on the simple basis of their group sexual identity. At the same time conventional notions of male identity often rest behind the felt necessity for a violent response to a real or imagined homosexual pass.

NSW Police have moved beyond the complacency of earlier times, and in cooperation with gay and lesbian groups they have begun a serious effort to record and monitor these offences. Consequently, NSW appears to have a much higher rate of gay killings than other Australian States in which the community liaison is in its infancy or still resisted by traditional patterns of policing.

A high proportion of NSW killings have resulted in the apprehension of offenders and in subsequent criminal trials. Some of these have led to the imposition of substantial sentences and clear judicial warnings issued against perpetrators of homophobic violence. But valid concerns remain about the outcome of trials in which pleas of provocation and self-defence have been raised by offenders who allege their violence was a necessary or excusable response to a homosexual advance.