City News

Mardi Gras protest granted public health exemption

Pride in Protest address the media in response to police threats to shut down the event. Photo: Pride in Protest

By ALLISON HORE

A protest at Sydney’s Taylor Square planned for the afternoon of Mardi Gras has been granted an exemption to go ahead by NSW Health.

Earlier this week, protest organisers said NSW police were attempting to block the protest citing coronavirus concerns and public health orders despite NSW seeing zero COVID-19 transmissions for over a month. The move received backlash from the LGBTQI+ community, Labor and Greens politicians and human rights organisations.

On Friday, police and protest organisers were to appear before the Supreme Court to make their case as to whether or not the protest would be allowed. However, before the case hit the courts NSW Health ruled they would grant an exemption to the 500 person limit for protests in the greater Sydney area for the event.

The decision was welcomed by Pride in Protest, the group behind the event.

“This is a massive win for not only the right to protest, but for the queer community to say that the fight against transphobia and homophobia cannot wait,” they said in a statement.

“The police will not stand in the way of our community demanding our rights this Mardi Gras.”

Among the issues the group hopes to draw attention to are a One Nation education bill which would outlaw mention of gender diversity in schools, treatment of LGBTQI+ refugees in Australian detention and Indigenous deaths in custody. Organisers hope the event will bring Mardi Gras closer to its roots as a political movement.

Police presence questioned

Although the exemption will allow the event to go ahead, Pride in Protest organiser Toby Walmsley said it doesn’t address the root issue of an “over policing” of Mardi Gras. 

“This health exemption does not simply end the over-policing of Mardi Gras, which we have seen as a continual problem, and is dangerous to our community as evidenced by the attacks on Jamie Jackson and Brynn Hutchinson at the 2013 Mardi Gras,” he said.

As part of the negotiations for the event to go ahead, Pride in Protest has agreed to some measures suggested by NSW Health to facilitate easier contact tracing and social distancing. These include separating the larger group into three smaller groups, a cap on attendees of 1,500 people, encouraging mask wearing and collecting details from protesters for contact tracing purposes.

Pride in Protest said the fact that there have been no COVID-19 cases confirmed to have been transmitted at protest events shows the community is capable of being coronavirus conscious without police presence.

“The COVID-safe team of the rally have implemented measures to ensure ease of contract tracing,” they said. 

“Due to no community transmissions occurring at protests, it is clear that the community has the ability to self manage with public health in mind, free of police intervention.”

The exemption means the group of protesters will be able to gather at Taylor Square at 2pm and march along Oxford Street to Hyde Park as planned.

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