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NSW Police attempt to block Mardi Gras pride protest

Pro marriage equality protesters at Town Hall during the marriage equality campaign. Photo: Allison Hore

By ALLISON HORE

Despite NSW seeing zero COVID-19 transmissions for over a month, NSW police have cited coronavirus concerns in an attempt to shut down a planned pride protest set to go ahead on the day of Mardi Gras.

The protest, planned to go ahead at Taylor Square at 2pm on the 6th of March, is being organised by activist group Pride in Protest. 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.

Pride in Protest hope the event will bring Mardi Gras back to its roots as a political movement.

On the Facebook event for the protest almost 1,000 people have said they will attend and a further 3,000 have clicked interested. Pride in Protest says they expect around 900 people in attendance. 

However, in the Greater Sydney area protests remain capped at 500 people and NSW police have formally opposed the event. They will be taking protest organisers to court in an attempt to block the protest from going ahead.

“Right now we have the police expressing that they attempt to oppose our protest,” said organisers.

“This is not conscionable, and this is why we’re marching.”

But Pride in Protest says since the Mardi Gras parade will go ahead at the Sydney Cricket Ground with over 10,000 spectators attending, it is an inconsistent application of the public health orders if they shut down the protest.

“We encourage the NSW Police to practice consistency in policing the public in the context of COVID-19,” they said.

“If non-political public gatherings are allowed to proceed uninterrupted, then so should protests.”

Speaking at a press conference, member for Newtown, Jenny Leong, said the solution to the conflict is not protesters bowing to the threats, but police backing down and working together with the protest organisers as they have in the past.

On Invasion Day, the police allowed the “unapproved” mass gathering to go ahead as long as it was broken up into smaller socially-distanced groups of 500 people, in line with public health orders.

“What we need to recognise is the NSW police here do not run this state,” said Ms. Leong.

“It is absolutely essential that we can stand up for trans rights, it is absolutely essential we stand up for Black Lives Matter, it is absolutely essential that we can exercise our right to protest.

When asked whether organisers would consider arranging a smaller 500-person event, Ms. Leong said with protests it is unpredictable how many people will turn up on the day.

“People will remember the day when we thought we were going to have a rally of about 2,000 people turn up for the Marriage Equality debate, but on the day 50,000 people turned up,” she said.

Pride in protest say they have planned the event based on the currently available public health advice, and will have strict COVID-19 safe measures in place on the day such as enforced social distancing and mask wearing. 

“Homophobia, transphobia, and racism are social diseases that do not wait, and neither can we,” organisers said. 

Pride in Protest have submitted their intention to march and COVID-19 safe plan to the relevant authorities. 

With protesters saying they will show up regardless of whether the event is allowed, organisers say police refusing to cooperate and trying to shut down the event will just make it more unsafe for all involved. Ms. Leong thinks the choice for police should be simple if they want to maintain order on the day.

“I say to the NSW police, do not make this harder than what it is,” she said.

Police and Pride in Protest will appear before court, possibly later today, to make their cases.

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