By RITA BRATOVICH
Members of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will elect its board of directors this Saturday, November 30, in what has the potential to be a highly volatile Annual General Meeting. Vying for a place each on the board are four candidates from the group Pride In Protest.
The group has been very vocal in criticising Mardi Gras for failing to stay true to core values of the LGBTQI community. They’ve outlined their grievances in five motions that have been submitted to the Mardi Gras board for consideration during the AGM.
In summary, the motions propose that Mardi Gras formally “disinvite” Prime Minister Scott Morrison from attending any Mardi Gras event; that NSW Police, Australian Federal Police and associated organisations be banned from having a float in the Mardi Gras Parade; and that Mardi Gras reconsider its sponsorship arrangements with Qantas, ANZ, and Gilead. Pride In Protest launched its campaign last year with a similar attempt to gain places on the Mardi Gras board. This year, its candidates are Evan Gray, Bridget Harilaou, Connor Parissis and Charlie Murphy.
Murphy, the lead candidate, is transgender and worked for Mardi Gras organisation for five years. While she appreciates the significance of Mardi Gras as a cultural organisation, she would like to see it re-embrace its protest roots and does not consider the two things mutually exclusive.
“As long as we have independent producers and queer artists and people who want to do a show […] the arts festival is always going to be there,” said Murphy. “All we’re asking is that Mardi Gras actually conducts their business practices and the way that they approach who’s in the parade, who their corporate sponsors are, with an ethical backbone and an outlook on social justice.”
Pride In Protest has concentrated its efforts on Mardi Gras in particular because of its pivotal position in the LGBTQI community.
“We have this event that is a major tourist draw card; it’s broadcast on SBS, it attracts somewhere around a quarter of a million people to the parade and over a million people viewing it on SBS,” said Murphy. With such a high profile, Mardi Gras could and should be doing more to address the corrosion of rights that is threatening society, .
“You need to understand that we’re still fighting for our rights, that the protest hasn’t ended, that the political fight hasn’t ended, and that’s what we wanna bring back,” she explained. “I think that powerful interests have drowned out voices of more marginalised communities within the parade…”
Pride In Protest especially objects to sponsorship by Qantas because of its compliance in deporting refugees; ANZ because of its contribution to arms deals and investment in weapons; and American pharmaceutical company Gilead, because of its extortionate pricing of PrEP (a drug that prevents HIV infection) in the US. They advocate for adoption of an ethics charter for corporate sponsorship in consultation with community and members.
Another controversial motion brought by the group is a call to ban NSW, Federal, and related police associations from having a float in the parade. “We don’t believe that people should march under the banner of an institution that causes oppression in society,” said Murphy. As the group sees it, the police force has an appalling record on treatment of indigenous people, the LGBTQI community and other marginalised groups and has no place in a parade celebrating diversity and pride.
The LGBTQI community is divided in its response to Pride In Protest. Some agree with their agenda, others believe they are too militant.
Christine Forster MP, Liberal councillor in the City of Sydney, sister of former Prime Minister of Tony Abbot and happily married in a same-sex relationship, told City Hub: “Mardi Gras is about respect, diversity and inclusion. Moves to ban certain groups or companies from the parade on political grounds flies in the face of everything the LGBTI+ community has worked so hard to achieve. I hope and expect these motions will be resoundingly defeated.”
Dr Kerryn Phelps, an independent City of Sydney councillor, medical practitioner and the first woman to be elected president of the Australian Medical Association, told City Hub: “I welcome the police involvement in the Mardi Gras. I remember the first time they marched in the parade and how difficult it was for them to gain official approval, but it was a real signal that times had moved on from 1978.
I see the great work the police do to help the LGBTQI community – they wear the purple shirts on Wear It Purple Day to support LGBTQI youth, and attend community events, including the recent Transgender Remembrance Day. Our community depends on the police for protection and I very much welcome their Continued involvement in the parade.
“Mardi Gras is inclusive. The community has a place for all reasonable views. The AGM is a democratic process and this particular group has tried to have a member elected for the past five years but they’ve so far been unsuccessful.
The protest group mentions boycotting corporate sponsors, but some of Mardi Gras’ main sponsors were quite pivotal in promoting marriage equality – Qantas is one example.
The LGBTQI community are going to have a range of views because people come from all political persuasions. There is room for debate on these important issues but at the end of the day I hope reason prevails.”
William Brougham is a Mardi Gras member and also very active in the LGBTQI community.
“While there will be disagreements and polarisation of the Pride in Protests motions, I do think the issues that they bring up are relevant points of discussion and should be discussed,” he said.
Mardi Gras itself has issued the following formal statement:
“The Board has a responsibility to consider motions brought forward by its members.
Mardi Gras is a member-based organisation and it is the right of every member to bring motions for consideration by all members at the Annual General Meeting.
This year’s AGM will consider motions on everything from the pricing of membership to political issues. These motions and the surrounding debate are displays of the strength and diversity of Mardi Gras and our community, and it is a diversity that we are proud to nurture and celebrate.
The 2020 Festival will showcase these strengths by providing multiple platforms to debate the way forward on a variety of topics related to LGBTIQ lives, culture, and rights.”
For more of City Hub‘s past coverage of Mardi Gras, visit: https://cityhubsydney.com.au/?s=mardi+gras