This year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade will go ahead within the confines of the SCG instead of its usual Oxford St location – but a new queer march will take its place on the street on the same day. Travis de Jonk reports.
While Covid-19 restrictions have forced the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade off their time-honoured parade route along Oxford Street into a seated, ticketed extravaganza at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), another LGBTQI+ protest march is set to take its place on the hallowed strip bearing a bold, brave and unashamedly political agenda.
Led by queer community activists Pride In Protest, in collaboration with LGBTQI Rights Australia, Community Action For Rainbow Rights and NSW Community Advocates For Prisoners, the march will go ahead at 2pm Saturday, 6 March 2021, and will be free and open for anyone to attend and participate.
Organisers say their action represents “pride without compromise, created for and by the community”, promising a peaceful yet vocal Mardi Gras season protest bearing the message, “No Cops, No Corporations, No Conservatives”, targeting organisations and ideologies they say oppose the values and interests of queer communities.
The Pride In Protest march will campaign around a number of key concerns, including the so-called Religious Discrimination Bill; mandatory detention and forced deportation of refugees; black deaths in custody; alleged overpolicing of queer and Indigenous communities; and calls for the full decriminalisation of sex work in every Australian state and territory.
Pride In Protest represents the substantial proportion of Sydney LGBTQI+ community members who see the celebratory inclusion of organisations such as the NSW Police Force, Qantas and the Liberal Party of Australia as ‘pinkwashing’ of pride, and a slap in the face to communities wronged by these institutions.
According to protest organisers, the Sydney Mardi Gras season is more than just glitz, glamour, parties and fabulousness – and queer people care deeply about a range of pressing issues which, they say, are missing from official Mardi Gras festival events.
“Our supporters feel there is no accountability, no recognition of wrongdoing and certainly no consequences for including [certain corporations and political parties in Mardi Gras],” said Pride in Protest spokesperson Evan Gray.
“What’s the point in that? What message is that sending to those wrongdoers whose actions sit in such opposition to the values of our community?” asked Gray.
“We have a parade that is run by corporations that doesn’t need to be … that is run by police that doesn’t need to be and a community that embraces these things that it doesn’t need to,” he continued.
“For every day that goes by that a person is murdered by police, that a refugee is unlawfully detained, that a child feels unsafe at school … or a teacher feels worried about their job security … every one of those days is unacceptable, and we need to be drawing a line and doing something about it – and that is what we are doing.”
While officially wishing Pride In Protest well, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has made clear they are not in any way affiliated with the Pride In Protest march – and some LGBTQI+ community members have accused Pride In Protest of being a disruptive force hijacking the Mardi Gras platform, among a raft of other criticisms.
LISTEN: Pride In Protest’s Evan Gray and Keith Quayle outlining the upcoming Mardi Gras Protest March and its primary issues:
“Far from it,” said Gray, who told the Sentinel Pride In Protest specifically set the time for their march hours before the official Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade at the SCG, so as to allow participation in both.
“[The protest] provides an opportunity for a large majority of those in the community who feel strongly on these issues, to both have their voices heard as well as participate in the more celebratory glamour of the official parade event.
“Our action is not an ultimatum, it’s not ‘either/or’. We understand intimately that there are complex stakeholder/sponsorship arrangements and obligations that could prevent Mardi Gras and participating organisations from being vocal and making the case for concerning issues. But we can say things they apparently can’t or won’t, while still offering those within the community who share our concerns to have their voice heard without compromising those relationships.”
Meanwhile, with the later start time of 6pm, the official Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade will go ahead at the SCG in a star studded affair of corporate and community floats headed by none other than British pop chanteuse and new The Voice Australia judge Rita Ora. And of course, the proceedings will be televised on SBS-TV, the official broadcast partner of the festival for the past three years.
The second-biggest event in NSW (the biggest is Sydney’s New Year’s Eve celebrations), the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras usually pumps tens of millions of dollars into the NSW economy each year, and attracts a TV viewership of millions, as well as hundreds of thousands of spectators who line the streets to watch the world-renowned pride parade for free.
This year, however, due to Covid and ensuing restrictions, organisers were forced to scale down and move the parade to the SCG in a ticketed event for an audience of approximately 46,000. With tickets costing $20 per person ($15 concession) it’s estimated the new format will make the organisation hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue they would not normally make, and save hundreds of thousands more in policing, marshalling and street licensing fees.
The SCG parade move has concerned many in Sydney, both within and beyond the queer community, as something that could become the ‘new normal’. However, Mardi Gras organisers have declared in formal statements that the SCG parade is a temporary, one-year only change and that, at this stage, there are no intentions to make it permanent.
Find out more about Pride In Protest and their 2021 Mardi Gras March here: https://m.facebook.com/PrideInProtest/
See further details of 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade and the full Mardi Gras program here: www.mardigras.org.au.
Travis de Jonk is the features editor of the Sydney Sentinel.