Mardi Gras says 'let's talk'
- Published: 25 February 2010
- Hits: 2732
Organisers of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras have announced a community-wide consultation on the Parade's future and the organisation's constitution. This is a step in the right direction, as the criteria for inclusion into the Parade this year do not appear to have been applied equally to all floats, writes Katrina Fox.
In the wake of the media storm over the exclusion of queer animal liberationists from this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, the corporatisation of Mardi Gras and queer media censorship, and subsequent revelations that actors had been paid to take part in an Ikea float in 2008, New Mardi Gras (NMG) CEO Michael Rolik sent a letter this week to queer media and NMG members vowing to consult widely with the community about the Parade’s future.
This is to be commended.
In the letter Rolik wrote: “What all this debate has suggested to me is that there is a discrepancy between some people’s view of what Mardi Gras should be about and the reality of our Constitution and business model.”
He then continues: “Animal Liberation have been in the parade many times, may have some gay members, but is patently not a GLBT organisation, provided no record of support for the GLBT community outside marching in the parade and had an entry with no emphasis on gay pride. That they reissued an application with ‘queer’ in the title didn’t change our view.
“If you believe Mardi Gras should be a vehicle for progressive political bodies or just anyone with a message to get out there then you’d include Animal Liberation’s message about cruelty to battery chickens, however, that is not what New Mardi Gras was set up to do. Our parade entry criteria broadly reflect our Constitution which is essentially about GLBT pride and celebration.”
Firstly, Animal Liberation does have many (not just ‘some’) queer members. In fact, as was explained to NMG, the Animal Liberation float each year comprises at least 80% of GLBSGDQ-identified people (out of around 100 participants, including Animal Liberation NSW’s executive director Mark Pearson, me and my partner Tracie O'Keefe). They happen to care about equal rights for all, including non-humans.
And secondly, if NMG’s Constitution and criteria, as outlined by Rolik above, are to be applied to all Parade entrants, perhaps he could explain why the following floats (listed as entries in this year’s Parade) have been included and exactly how they fit the criteria:
‘The history of the hula hoop’, Taronga Zoo (an organisation that profits from the exploitation of and cruelty to sentient non-humans), Federal Police, NSW Police, fire brigade, ANZ, Virgin Blue, Foxtel, the Michael Jackson Thriller Zombie Marching Group, Raelians, Railcorp, a float about Neil Armstrong and the first humans on the moon.
How are any of these ‘gayer’ than a float comprising around 80 GLBSGDQ community members?
Oh, and then there's Climate Action Newtown & Friends - 'Gay, lesbians and queers for renewable energy' who will 'bring the message of renewable energy to the streets' and Gays and Lesbians Against Climate Change. But Sydney Queers for Animal Rights don't get a look in? Double standards anyone?
NMG’s letter comes shortly after Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) issued a media release claiming NMG had told them that although excluded groups may march with CAAH’s marriage equality float, “no unauthorised material” can be displayed. CAAH has urged all floats to engage in civil disobedience and display “rebellious” and “unauthorised” placards and other material.
Whether NMG attempts to censor any “unauthorised” material on Saturday night remains to be seen, but as I mentioned above, NMG’s decision to pledge to consult with the community is to be applauded, as there are huge discrepancies between what people think Mardi Gras is or should be and what it is in reality.
Kudos too to NMG for committing to consult with the entire queer community and not just NMG members, as so many GLBSGDQ people have given up being members because of what they perceive Mardi Gras to have become.
I attended Fair Day last Sunday and was overwhelmed by the support from so many community members who were outraged that queer animal libbers had been excluded from the Parade, as well as the fact that actors were paid to take part in a corporate float in previous years.
At the Radical Picnic later that day, I met a 78-er who was appalled by Mardi Gras’ allegiances to corporate sponsors at the exclusion of queer community members. Yes, times have changed and it’s not 1978 anymore, but it’s about time it was made clear exactly what the ‘Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’ Parade is.
Is it an inclusive representation of our very diverse queer community? Or a sanitised selection of safe queers approved by the gaystream ‘fruits in suits’ as being suitable for entertaining the heterosexuals, sprinkled with a liberal dose of corporate vampires chasing the pink dollar?
Watch this space.