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Mardi Gras says 'let's talk'

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.




0 #26 shayne chester 2010-03-04 16:42
I spend half my life waiting for a response from our 'leaders,' Mr/Ms. Anonymous. It's like shouting into a dark cave and wondering if there's anyone in there. Every so often, you hear them scurrying for cover, so you know something's happening, but expecting accountability might be a bit of an ask. For example, I've been offered a regular spot on queernoise radio and have sent an invite to these people to discuss a few issues with me on the radio. Somehow, I think there's more chance of Tony Abbott understanding climate change before that happens though. :-)
0 #25 Wait and see 2010-03-04 04:10
Why dont you wait and see Shayne ?

Stick the knife in after the meeting if it wasnt too your liking.

But for f..ks sake give them a chance.
0 #24 Shayne Chester 2010-03-03 18:53
ah, so many lobbies, so little energy. I'm currently researching and trying to get info out into the HIV sector. however I have also written to NMG, (to Sam and Luke) explaining why I decided to not participate in the 'you-need-to-be -our-kind-of-qu eer-to-play' mardi gras and had no reply. Nor has anyone else I know that contacted them. Doesn't give me an awful lot of faith in 'let's talk.'
0 #23 Not over it yet 2010-03-03 00:33
I'm tired of the histrionics here (although I do share Gary's concerns about his pussy, Ivory). You guys are so defeatist. The opportunity that you have to shape the future of Mardi Gras is still there, so why not make a damn nuisance of yourselves (again) and lobby hard for what you, and a lot of others, want. You don't have to hand it over entirely to the younger generation yet, after all you're not dead yet.
Oh, and Gary just because I sympathise with Ivory's plight doesn't mean I buy all the idea of a silent majority behind your every word.
Remember others have made that claim.
0 #22 Star Adrael 2010-02-28 03:43
Hello Everyone,

I'd like to address the inclusion of the Raelian float as an example of criteria not met.

The Raelian Movement is the worlds largest atheist organisation. We are, to my knowledge, the only religion that openly welcomes and encourages homosexuality as normal and natural. We activley promote these ideals, along with other teachings of peace, love and happiness, at our seminars through the year and on our website

Our activism in the arena of gay rights is well known to many, and was highlighted by our co-organisation (along with CAAH and others) of the "No To Pope" World Youth Day Protest.

I feel I must remind people that The Raelians too got excluded from entering our first Mardi Gras, and it wasn't utill we protested with signs outside MG head quarters, and picketted along Taylors Square with signs saying "Mardi Gras Organisation descriminates against homosexuals" that we were allowed to actually enter the parade. Our first float in the mardi gras was in support of same sex couples having children (via science). Our popular slogan "F**K HOMOPHOBIC RELIGION" in previous years has been a HUGE succsess and is a talking point for many.

Personally I do not endorse the commercializati on of the Mardi Gras parade, unless said organisation has something specific to do with the GLBTQ community. Being gay and working at ikea, doesn't bring anything but numbers to the parade. The parade should continue to be about activism, pride and equality. Having floats like the Hoola Hoops and Michael Jackson etc keeps it camp, keeps it fun, and doesn't have a commercial gain.

Star Adrael
Raelian -
0 #21 shayne chester 2010-02-28 00:20
there's always a fair amount of depression after Mardi Gras, especially among those disenfranchised who feel they don't 'belong'. It must be even more depressing to be TOLD u don't belong. If its any consolation, I'd rather stand with someone with a little political sensibility, like those who can see that gay rights, animal rights, all rights are the same thing...than any of thoses standing in the street last night waving their lil flags and shouting, 'look at me, i'm gay.' or any of the 100's of straights in the parade who couldn't give a shit about glbqti rights, they were just in the parade to party.
0 #20 Dejay 2010-02-26 16:56
I identify as a gay man who strongly supports the animal lib movement. I do this (on the most part) quietly, demonstrating the principles through my lifestyle and in discussions with friends and acquaintances. I love the gay leather scene, however in order to live by my principles and still enjoy this part of the gay scene, I choose, for example, to buy faux-leather products. I am not alone. I believe that I should be allowed to march, representing the small, but growing, group of GLBT animal lovers who do not feel that we as a community should exploit animals for our own desires.

In reference in particular to the discussion above, I look at the NMG Constitution and the Objects of the Company (copied below or you can obtain your own copy for the NMG website). I feel that I could make an argument that the Animal Liberation NSW float could fit into points 2.1 a, b, c, d and e.

For just one example - you could argue NMG should be supporting GLBTQ cultural development [2.1 a, (ii)] by supporting a group of GLBTQ protesters that questions our community's exploitation of animals. Wearing real animal fur is no longer culturally acceptable within the community, and most people don't question this "cultural development".

I may also point out that the Parade Entry Criteria that Rolick defends DOES NOT simply "reflect our Constitution which is essentially about GLBT pride and celebration.”, and the proof of that is in the copied text below. He forgets the parade is not just a celebration of who we are, but as the Constitution says, a vehicle for organizing events of "celebration, commemoration and protest and engage in other activities as part of the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer community "

If NMG does in fact want to review the parade and who is included, I think it’s going to need to heavily review it’s constitution – and to be frank, a vote to change it so drastically will only fail. (You only need to see the failure of the attempt to alter the Constitution at the last AGM to prove that.)

NMG, you simply have made the wrong decision, and the stubbornness to not review the decision shows how you do not really want to engage in community consultation (as per the promise at the 2009 AGM), but rather define yourselves as a Board with strong resolve - right or wrong.

Further to this, I felt demeaned that the email NMG sent to members on 23rd Feb suggesting that now the season is on, criticism should give way to preparing for “the exciting stuff that’s happening”. NMG publicly demeaned and side-lined my (and others) criticism and basically told us all to ‘fall in line’. That the CEO, with the support of the Co-Chairs, can be so arrogant is startling. I know where my vote is not going come the AGM.


2.1 The objectives of New Mardi Gras shall be to organise and co-ordinate events of celebration, commemoration and protest and engage in other activities as part of the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer community. This includes:
(a) Sustaining and strengthening the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer community by:
(i) providing opportunities for interaction and association between individuals, groups and organisations;
(ii) contributing to its social, economic, cultural and political development;
(iii) enabling the full expression of its culture, history, traditions and aspirations; and
(iv) providing opportunities for other organisations to promote their services, fundraise and advance their objectives;
(b) Acknowledging the diversity of the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer community.
(c) Advancing the goals of this community, including:
(i) full acceptance of and equal rights within Australia and internationally;
(ii) promoting visibility of its people within the Australian community and internationally;
(iii) recognition within society of the right to sexual self-determinat ion of all people.
(d) Advancing the interests and general well-being of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer people including:
(i) affirmation of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer love and life;
(ii) creating opportunities for people to express themselves artistically and politically and develop their artistic and political skills; and
(iii) by creating a forum in which sexuality and gender diversity are explored and celebrated.
(e) Building strong, positive and beneficial relationships between the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer community and the wider community.
0 #19 shayne chester 2010-02-25 21:00
I agree, Steven, and I mentioned elsewhere on this site that 'gay' as a social construct may well be redundant. We don't want or need to wear a badge to declare our sexuality anymore (tho's some might argue that the queer semiotic of the Ipod/Zannerobe/ gym bod/etc generation and other labels that we use to identify the tribe we belong to, is no different.)

I don't think anyone is engaging in a competition between queer then and now. The issue is about what is becoming of community and Mardi Gras... and what we want it to be. I'm not sure what you think 'we still have to go through,' but arguably, homophobia is still alive and well and it'd be nice to see the ugly 'not queer enough to be one of us' attitudes put aside so that we might unite against a common enemy. The last Mardi Gras I photographed for the queer media - before I realised that the pix were looking the same every year - had 10,000 participants and about 180 floats, everything from commercial venues, community groups, political orgs, and so on, including …

Community, service and religious groups including ACON, Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service, Gay And Lesbian Rights Lobby, Twenty-Ten Youth Support Service, the Luncheon Club, PFLAG NSW Inc (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Highschoolers Against Homophobia, the Gay Straight Alliance (made up of parents, teachers and students), Macquarie Grammar School, and Gay and Straight Teens From Western Sydney and the Central Coastthe middle-eastern GLBT group Beit El Hob, Amnesty International, Metropolitan Community Church, Dayenu Sydney Jewish GLBT Group; the Pentecostal & Charismatic GLBT group Freedom 2 B(E), the Catholic GLBT group Acceptance Sydney, the Wayside Chapel and 100 ministers from various religions who marched to apologise for exclusion and treatment of the gay community; GLBT social, cultural and sporting groups such as Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir, Heaven Social Group (Western Sydney), The Pollys Social Group (formed in 1964), Cronulla Gay Group, Mature Aged Gays, Leather Pride, Harbour City Bears, Sydney Spokes Cycling Club, Sydney Rams Tenpin Bowling Club, Sydney Rangers Football Club, Freezone Volleyball Club, Australian Sailing And Cruising Club, Sydney Convicts Rugby, Tropical Fruits, the Sydney Homotones Gay and Lesbian Concert band and Come Out Australia, a social community organisation with branches throughout metropolitan Sydney, regional NSW, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Geelong, Melbourne gays, Rainbow Recovery for glbqti addicts and alkies, gay lifesavers, flight attendants and large group of gay and lesbian parents and their children; corporate organisations such as IBM, ANZ Bank, Salesforce and IKEA supporting their GLBT employees; The City of Sydney, NSW Police, Australian Defence Force, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, State Transit Authority, surf Life Saving Australia, NSW Fire Brigades, NSW Rural Fire Service, Sydney South West Area Health Service, Kirketon Road Centre and Nurses from RPA, St Vincents, Prince Of Wales And Concord Hospitals, Cronulla Gay Group’s lavish Ice Castle float; New Mardi Gras’ procession of planets throughout the Parade, climaxing with an elaborate starship at the Parade’s end; the Thunderbags are Go! Marching group; the Asian Marching Boys; the Newcastle Collaborations float, Pash’n Bonker; and Divas thru the Decades and shitloads of butch queens and scary dykes …

...more diversity than you could wrap your brain around and all welcomed by cheering masses who understood that in that diversity lie our one true strength. That is why I have no patience for this politic of self-interested groups and self appointed 'leaders' battling each other for some spurious position in the grotty glammerati.
0 #18 Steven Alexander 2010-02-25 20:10
Why should I wipe away those memories ? never said that Gary. Read slower next time.

The community back then is totally different to the community today. Younger generation dont need a gay bar to feel comfortable in.
The younger gays I work with hardly go to gay bars and hang out at straight pubs with their gay and straight mates.

Its all changing so the community is not and probably will never be as close knitted as it used to be.

Is the younger generation interested in what the 78'ers went through ? probably not. Yes we still have a way to go but
nowhere near what the early community had to go through.
0 #17 shayne chester 2010-02-25 19:10
'Should we stay in the past ? ' That's not possible. And I've already said what I think about nostalgia. This community will get the 'gay government' (NMG/acon/BGF etc) that it deserves. But on the matter of community, I suppose I am biased because I came to this city alone at age 12 and the glbqt community took me in and became my family. I am a stately homo now, a maiden aunt, and the next generations will make of community what they will. But I still believe, as the Sister Sledge anthem would have it, that we are family. It is not just a link to our past, but a bridge to our future.

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