Lively forum hears Mardi Gras admit ‘stuff-up’
At what was at times a lively and robust affair that at one point almost descended into a stand-off, a community forum held last night to discuss the future of the Sydney Mardi Gras heard from a number of individuals and groups concerned about increasing corporatisation and sanitisation of the annual parade celebrating LGBTIQ rights.
Held at the Redfern headquarters of Scarlett Alliance on Thursday evening, the meeting drew about 50 people, many of whom were upset about criteria placed by parade organisers, Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG), which they claimed was limiting freedom of expression and identity.
During the meeting, SGLMG board member Damon Hartley also admitted that the organisation’s decision to drop the words ‘Gay & Lesbian’ from the Parade title without proper consultation was a “stuff-up”.
Jane Green, a sex worker activist and part of the Scarlett Alliance float at this year’s parade, said it was disconcerting that organisers were attempting to monitor queer identity.
“It seems there’s a push for the gay community to sanitise its image,” Green said.
“The whole business has become just that – a business. Mardi Gras has become so focussed on commercialism.”
Jarel, a spokesperson from ARAMIS (the Raëlian Association of Sexual Minorities), who were banned from this year’s parade over a banner that was deemed offensive, echoed similar sentiments.
“It is not your mandate to control us and limit our freedom of expression ... You are not mandated to be the thought police of this community,” he said.
“Mardi Gras is a fantastic opportunity to voice our concerns to the elite and to the outside world.”
Steve, a protestor at the first Mardi Gras in 1978, suggested that controversial messages still needed a home at Mardi Gras.
“If we toned down what we had written on posters and placards eventual law changes in 1984 may never have happened,” he said.
Former SGLMG board member, Siri May, who was a part of the team that developed this year’s Parade criteria said it seemed the “implementation became quite rigid”.
“There does have to be a process for the parade but that process should involve more dialogue,” she said.
“Mardi Gras offers a platform for difference. It shouldn’t favour one opinion over another.”
Hartley, who was present at the meeting alongside Amanda Keeling from SGLMG’s community engagement team, apologised to groups such as Poly Pride and Scarlett Alliance for how they were treated in the lead-up to this year’s Parade.
“It was a great forum and lots of notes taken and opinions duly noted to assist further work we all need to do,” he told SX.