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The corporatisation of Mardi Gras and queer media censorship

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has lost its political and activist roots, preferring alliances with corporations rather than community. And the queer media is no better, writes Peter Hackney.

The modern queer rights movement was born on June 28, 1969 in New York City. 

That night, NYC queers endured one too many police raids on a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. For once, they fought back, in what became known as the Stonewall Riots. 

Stonewall gave succour to the queer rights movement worldwide, including here in Australia where in 1978 the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was held to commemorate the riots. 

With origins like this, you’d expect New Mardi Gras (NMG) – the company that runs Sydney’s Mardi Gras – to be all for freedom of expression. But as events of last week show, it is anything but. 

If there was any doubt that Australia’s largest queer event had become a monolith that exists for its own sake – instead of the queer community it represents – it was dispelled last week when NMG took the extraordinary step of banning queer people from this year’s Mardi Gras Parade. 

As The Scavenger first revealed, queer members of Animal Liberation NSW (ALNSW) – who first marched in the parade fourteen years ago, and received a Most Creative Entry nomination for their ‘Vegetarians Taste Better’ float in 2007 – were no longer welcome.  

The reason? According to communication from NMG to ALNSW, they “weren’t queer enough”. 

It didn’t matter that most of those involved in ALNSW’s entry were actually queer, or that the entry was renamed ‘Sydney Queers for Animal Rights’ to placate Mardi Gras. Apparently all participants, and their message, had to be 100 per cent queer. 

“Mardi Gras is first and foremost a gay pride event,” NMG CEO Michael Rolik ‘explained’ several days later. “There is definitely a feeling amongst both staff and volunteers that on occasion it has been co-opted by groups who see it first and foremost as a vehicle for their own separate agenda.” 

Yes, Michael, like Ikea – who will be allowed to ‘co-opt’ the parade this year to help them sell cheap kit furniture that takes five days to assemble. 

Or ANZ, whose NMG-approved ‘co-opting’ no doubt relates to an agenda of getting more of us to take out hefty bank loans. 

Or Foxtel, who – colour me cynical – are in it with the hope that more queers pay for the privilege of watching US reality shows and re-runs of The A-Team

Clearly, it’s OK to ‘co-opt’ Mardi Gras if you cough up enough dough, or if the NMG honchos approve of your message – and some in the community are of the opinion that NMG does have issues with Animal Lib’s message, especially after last year’s ‘Cows are Cool, Leather is Cruel’ float which sent many of our gay male leather aficionados into a queeny flap (macho men that they are). 

The result is a parade that’s little more than a shopfront for corporations chasing the pink dollar, and those select queer groups who get the tick of approval from our self-appointed Gay Government, the ranks of which are made up of unelected ‘politicians’ from NMG and other ‘gaystream’ organisations. 

The situation would be slightly more palatable if our community could at least discuss these issues freely and openly, but NMG isn’t keen to engage: to date it has not responded to any critical posts on its Facebook page, including those about the Animal Liberation float and complaints by Tasmanians that their state-based GLBSGDQ-owned businesses were denied a stall at the Mardi Gras Fair Day. 

And sadly, the queer media has been ‘co-opted’ into the culture of censorship. What should be a forum for recourse has become little more than a queer K-Mart catalogue; endless advertorial urging its ‘readers’ to buy something (such as Mardi Gras tickets) instead of investigating or questioning anything. 

Shortly after The Scavenger story on the Animal Lib float broke, I wrote a piece on the matter for Sydney gay weekly, SX, and uploaded it on the magazine’s website. The following day, the story was removed by order of the publisher. But not before the world’s largest gay and lesbian magazine, The Advocate; Europe’s largest gay news website, Pink News; and popular gay blog Queerty picked up the story, all referencing the SX article (which now leads to a 'page not found' link). 

A couple of days later, the story was flagged by the mainstream media, appearing throughout Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation titles, and on the Austereo radio network’s morning news bulletins. Sydney’s other gay weekly, the Sydney Star Observer, also ran a piece. 

Exactly why the story was scuppered by SX is unclear – there’s no doubting its newsworthiness, as its viral spread through other media showed. Could it be anything to do with the fact that Evolution Publishing (publishers of SX) is the official media partner for NMG? 

On her blog, Sequins & Sands: A 2010 Mardi Gras Behind the Scenes View, NMG Co-Chair Steph Sands makes the claim that, “Mardi Gras is for all of us. Not just a chosen few.” 

Wrong, Steph. The Mardi Gras of 2010 is an overly spin-doctored, egotistical, dollar-driven corporation that exists largely for itself. 

It has learned nothing from its 2002 crash and burn, the direct result of dancing too close to the corporate devil. Now, it’s dancing with that devil again, and the result is corporate inclusion at the price of community exclusion. 

Unless Mardi Gras changes dance partners, and deigns to get down with its community instead of faceless corporations, history will likely repeat and the organisation will again crash and burn. 

In fact, without the watchdog role of a vital, enquiring and uncensored GLBSGDQ media – I’m betting on it.

SEE ALSO: Fresh Mardi Gras scandal: actors paid to march in community parade

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a freelance journalist and the former news editor of SX.


0 #61 Brad Johnston 2010-03-18 07:40
I can't believe I only just stumbled across this thread – that's what happens when you go offline.
Anyway, I was editor of SX when Evolution Publishing got the NMG media partnership deal and expressed my concerns at the time. To put it bluntly, I knew it was the kiss of death, editorially speaking – I was never going to be able to run anything even vaguely critical of the organisation. I couldn't even take the piss out of anything (I found this part most infuriating).
But all that money! Those advertisers! Oh frabjous day.
The commercialisati on of Mardi Gras began long ago; the media partner ball-gag was merely passed from SSO to SX.
I just hope they washed it first; I still feel grubby after running all that party drivel.
Disclaimer: I was sacked for telling another organisation, with whom Evolution also had a media deal, exactly what I thought of their concept of "gay culture". I suspect this has become an oxymoron.
0 #60 Colin 2010-03-05 15:45
Peter, it’s no use trying to get through to some people. they’re like gay Stepford Wives – programmed to toe the gay establishment line.

Brendon, as for people ‘making stuff up’ ... the content of your copy/paste email from Media Watch looks like a prime example.
0 #59 Peter Jackson 2010-03-05 15:18
Brendon no one here can quite make out which bit you either don’t get or remain stuck in denial about – Media Watch has no interest in a free street corner queer ad catalogue – why not? Because there is no ‘reporting’ or ‘news’ for an entity like Media Watch to cover.
The advertorials from places like NMG, ACON, BGF etc are composed at their respective organisations and sent in to be published by our gay media, who are interested in little more than taking those loft corporate advertising fees and keeping themselves and their readers mum in terms of critical comment. If you think that this blatantly clear to see picture is somebody ‘making things up’ then it’s your own IQ that’s challenged.
0 #58 unkown 2010-03-01 22:19
Gay Sydney mardi gras website features a little boy on 2008 Sideshow, Removes - We took SNAPSHOT check it out ►
0 #57 Brendan of Wollongong NSW 2010-03-01 02:30
Well said, Kathy.

Peter, you miss the point. Media Watch say they plan their content based on "stories as it sees them at the time, in the context of all the media stories which are around". You and Colin claim respectively that they do it based on a distinction between "journalism rather than advertorial" and that "MediaWatch did not and does not seriously recognise the Sydney Star Observer as ‘media’". Prove it or admit you're just making stuff up. Can your high IQ manage that?

Happy Mardi Gras, all :-*
0 #56 Kathy Sant 2010-02-21 17:28
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is the world’s most glamourous protest It is about GLBT visibility and celebration as well as delivering overt political about our need for equality to a large audience. It must remain a queer event or become completely meaningless. NMG is right to point out it is not a vehicle for every good cause or every leftish cause. But it has got this decision wrong. The AR float is organised by queers and the organisers were willing to make that clear by calling it Sydney Queers for Animal Rights. The Parade should be made up of primarily of members of our community marching as lesbians, gay men, trannies, bis or queers but it should show that community in all its diversity: queers for animal rights; lesbian parents and their kids; gay Olympic champions; lifesavers for pride, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby; lesbian lawnbowlers; gay Kylie look-alikes and yes dykes and gay men who wear leather.
0 #55 Peter Jackson 2010-02-19 22:01
Brendon, I’ll repeat for one last time as you seem incapable to understanding all our posts: The complaint about SSO is years out of date. MW showed no interest in covering it or anything else from that free street corner infomercial rag.

If you want to take SSO to MW do it – but first you’ll need to find anything in the SSO that constitutes journalism rather than advertorial. On this week’s front page alone, only one news item shares space with an advertorial for a travel expo.

This is not samesame, we have a little more IQ here, suggest as Shayne says you stay put on the queer Dolly site.
0 #54 shayne chester 2010-02-19 05:59
I don't think anyone can be bothered Brendan, take it to samesame.
0 #53 Brendan of Wollongong NSW 2010-02-19 05:48
Colin, no. I said "[the mere making of a complaint does not prove] that the complaint was sound or substantiated". You wrongly inferred me to be saying that your complaint "was not sound or substantiated".

Criticising spelling? How old are you, five? And perfect example of how what you claim to "know" and what is actually true are two diametrically opposite things. I don't care about your misspellings, nor mine. You are the one making a fuss about it, you funny man.

Just to recap, Media Watch said:

Media Watch doesn’t have a policy regarding coverage of the Sydney Star Observer nor any non-mainstream media. In short, the program covers the stories as it sees them at the time, in the context of all the media stories which are around. We also don’t believe there was such a policy in 2007. Please feel free to send us any stories you think we might be interested in.

But Colin, in his infinite wisdom and superiority - yet who apparently thinks that misspelling the names of others goads them and that this is somehow clever - is the very last word and authority on what this "really" means. Ok, sure. Whatever you say, Colin. You are right. Always :-)
0 #52 shayne chester 2010-02-19 03:22
'Another boycott, Shayne? ' Yeah, I like to wear my gonads on the outside.

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