Mardi Gras rejects moves to ban police, Liberal Party

NSW Police pose for photographs with parade goers at the start of the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. Photo: Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image.

By PETER HACKNEY

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has voted to reject calls by the Pride in Protest group and allied activists to ban police, corrective services and the Liberal Party from future Mardi Gras parades, and to officially affirm the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Today’s Mardi Gras AGM, held via video teleconferencing platform Zoom, saw Mardi Gras members reject Ordinary Resolution #3, which sought to ban the NSW Police Force, the Australian Federal Police, the Police Association of NSW and associated organisations from having floats “in all future parades”.

“This is in recognition of the immense violence perpetrated by the police and corrective services towards First Nations communities who are over-policed and over-incarcerated, particularly LGBTQIA+ First Nations people who do not feel safe and are excluded as a result of police and corrective service’s participation in the parade,” the motion stated.

However, the resolution failed, with 261 members voting in favour and 327 against.

Ordinary Resolution #5, calling on the Mardi Gras Board to censure Prime Minister Scott Morrison for his role as a ‘no’ campaigner in the 2017 marriage equality plebiscite, and his attempts to bring in a Religious Freedom Bill, among other actions, was also rejected.

The motion called on Liberal Party floats to be banned from the Mardi Gras parade in 2021 “and future parades”, and urged Mardi Gras to disinvite Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian from the events.

While 164 members voted to support the motion, 332 voted against it. 

Meanwhile, Ordinary Resolution #6, relating to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, was voted down 180 to 321. The motion called on Mardi Gras to “stand openly in support and solidarity” with the BLM movement and to “support the Defund, Disarm, Dismantle framework in relation to the police and prisons”, among other measures. 

Motions calling for Mardi Gras to terminate its sponsorship arrangement with Qantas over the airline’s role in deporting asylum seekers, and urging Mardi Gras to “divest from ANZ and all sponsors with investments in fossil fuels” also failed to get up. 

Lack of democracy, racism accusations

The AGM was dogged by allegations of undemocratic behaviour and racism, with various claims airing on Twitter alleging that the Zoom chat function had been disabled, and that questions were being ignored by AGM facilitators.

In one tweet, the Pride in Protest group shared an article written by Mardi Gras co-chair Jesse Matheson, a former Star Observer journalist. The story, titled “I’m a sexual racist”, was published by the Star Observer in December 2012. 

“Interesting that an organisation which refuses to take action on racial violence in the police force is headed up by a guy who wrote this,” tweeted the official Pride in Protest Twitter account during the AGM.

Matheson’s article was subsequently unpublished by the Star Observer, and the Sentinel understands Matheson later apologised for the piece.

‘Encouraging’ results

Speaking to the Sentinel following the AGM, Pride in Protest organiser Bridget Harilaou said that despite their motions being voted down, today’s results were encouraging. 

“We had 44 per cent of the room today, which is an increase on the two previous AGMs,” Harilaou said.

“We started three years ago and the support we’ve had today is higher than ever before. It’s just a matter of time until we’re successful at a future AGM.” 

Harilaou said support for Pride in Protest’s aims was “largely a demographic matter”.

“The Mardi Gras board and membership is generally white, cis, middle-aged and often comes from a corporate background,” they said. “Whereas our team stands for Indigenous people, refugees, the disabled and regular grassroots people.”

The Auckland Pride model

Acknowledging that shunning police and various corporate sponsors would have financial repercussions for Mardi Gras, Harilaou pointed to the Auckland Pride Festival as a potential model for Sydney’s Mardi Gras.

New Zealand’s biggest LGBTQI event, Auckland Pride banned uniformed police in 2018, and eschewed corporate sponsorship, making it free for all to participate in the march. Instead of corporate sponsors, the organisation embraced crowdfunding models such as GoFundMe, and sought local, community sponsorship. A number of corporate sponsors withdrew financial support in response, including Vodafone, ANZ, BNZ, Westpac, the Fletcher Building and the SKY City hotel and casino.

However, the 2020 Auckand Pride Festival became the biggest in the organisation’s history, with 75 per cent of the 154 event roster being free or koha entry.

“If Auckland can do it, there’s no reason why Sydney can’t,” said Harilaou, who pointed out that Mardi Gras attracted very little corporate sponsorship during its 1980s and ’90s halcyon days.

The Mardi Gras response

On Thursday, the Mardi Gras board addressed many of the issues raised by Pride in Protest in an open letter titled, “We Stand Openly in Support and Solidarity with Black Lives Matter”.

“We acknowledge the historic difficulties between the NSW Police, the LGBTIQ+ community and First Nations people … particularly in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and international events in 2020,” the letter stated.

“We also acknowledge the significant work the LGBTIQ+ community, the NSW Police and [Mardi Gras] have undertaken to develop stronger relationships with our community,” it continued, pointing to initiatives such as the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO) program, the 2014 signing of the Mardi Gras Police Accord and the NSW Police Commissioner’s 2018 apology to the ’78ers.

However, the letter rejected calls to ban police, corrective services and the Liberal Party from parades, stating: “Groups or individuals who are LGBTIQ+ or our allies from Mardi Gras events based on their career, association, political affiliation or the banner they wish to march under does not align with our intrinsic, core value of inclusion.”

Mardi Gras has been contacted for further comment. 

– Additional reporting by Mike Hitch. 

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