The suburb of Newtown in Sydney’s inner-west has long prided itself on being a bastion of alternative culture, where those who identify as being a little bit quirky or different could walk through the streets and feel safe, at home, among friends.
But there’s been a palpable change in the air over the past year or so. Sure, walk down King Street and you’ll still see its idiosyncratic charms on full display, but there’s also a feeling of nervous tension that never used to be there.
That’s because of a spike in violent assaults, like the one that just happened to Isaac Keatinge – a 25-year-old who identifies as queer – who was allegedly beaten bloody by a group of men after going out wearing makeup and a dress.
“It’s not the first time, just the worst time. I’ve been surrounded and pushed by groups of straight men before, so I didn’t expect it to escalate so quickly,’ Keatinge said. “My brother and father warned me that wearing dresses and makeup would ‘get me bashed’, I just didn’t think it would happen in Newtown.”
And locals aren’t taking the attack on one of their own lying down.
The mobile festival will see thousands of people gather in Newtown’s Victoria Park from 3pm next Saturday, 23rd April, to protest violence against the area’s diverse community.
The Facebook event description really sums up its mission statement to a tee:
Reclaim The Streets spokesperson James Loch has echoed these same sentiments, saying that while the attack on Isaac was shocking, it was by no means isolated.
“These are our friends, our adopted families who are being harassed, bullied, intimidated, and beaten,” he said. “We all came to Newtown to avoid that kind of bullshit, but thanks to Casino Mike it has followed us here.”
It’s the belief of many that Sydney’s despised lockout laws have merely pushed the “bad element” that was responsible for all the trouble in now-deserted Kings Cross into lockout-free Newtown, and statistics also reflect this.
And now, following what police are investigating as yet another targeted attack on Newtown’s LGBT community, their voices are getting even louder.
“The fact is the Liberal Party stirs up hatred of LGBTI people with policies like bans on same sex marriage and attacks on anti-bullying programs, and by courting hate groups like the Australian Christian Lobby,” Loch said.
“They do this because it gives them electoral support that allows them to lower taxes on big business and sell public assets to their mates.”
“This hate has real world consequences on people we know. We are literally hurting so they can profit.”
Reclaim The Streets are encouraging protestors to embrace their inner Newtown for the event, and get a little weird.
“Bring something, wear something, or do something out of the ordinary, he said. “This protest is a giant fuck-you to anyone who ever tried to make you to fit in.”