Norming Mardi Gras


One evening in Sydney in 1978, a group of brave people marched together in a spirit of celebration and dissent.

They were marching after a morning commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, a violent resistance to homophobic state oppression in NYC.

There were at least 500 gays and lesbians as the march commenced (and of course, many identities not included in those bounds).

They shouted “Out of the bars and into the streets!” as they marched down Oxford Street, and their numbers swelled to something like 2000 from accounts I’ve read. Then, police revoked their ‘permission’ to use the streets, and they were attacked and horribly brutalised.

53 were arrested, and the Sydney Morning Herald printed their names in full. This outed people to their friends, family and workplaces. People lost their jobs and suffered terribly as a result of the SMH’s actions.

This was the first Mardi Gras.

I wasn’t there. In 1978, I wasn’t even born. My father was probably finishing his teaching degree, and my mother was finishing highschool, I think.

My first experience of Mardi Gras was in 2010, as a Queer femme participating with the Roller Derby Leagues float. And again in 2011, with the Sydney Polyamory float. To me, it was a strange, glittery, hyped morass of energy and suspiciously money-led activity.

I’ve heard a lot of my friends talk over the last couple of years about how New Mardi Gras has lost it’s way, and is not a radical or inclusive space. I agree with them. I don’t think it is a radical or groundbreaking festival or march anymore, based on the history of the event. I think they’re right when they say it has become a drive for dollars, and a place where ‘homo-normative’ narratives ascend into full view and push those of us who aren’t the three ‘Ws’ (waxed, well-off, white dudes) into the margins.

In the last twenty four hours, I heard via social networking that they’ve renamed Mardi Gras. Now, it is no longer the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, nor is that the push. Now, the GL Mardi Gras will be called the ‘Sydney Mardi Gras’ and will be a place for, you know, just anyone in the ‘wider community’ (translation: straights) who feels a bit different and feels like celebrating that.

Far from this being a push to include more of us, this is an alienating action that insults the pain and work and bravery of the 78ers, and every single kid who has been bashed for being a fag, and every single girl who has been killed for being gay, and every single person who has languished in an unhappy sham marriage. This was OUR festival, and even if it got fucked up and lost, it was still OURS. We needed to make it more Queer, more inclusive of OUR community.

People have been positing that there is no need for the festival to demarcate itself anymore. That the work is done and the world is now a friendly place for Queers and so, we can open the door and let our spaces be shared.

This is bollocks.

When I go home to Tamworth I’m always relieved to leave, and this is mostly because I know if I talk about the wrong thing at the wrong time or flirt with the wrong person, or bring the wrong gendered person home, or ever tried to move back there, I’d be in trouble.

I’ve received street harassment for holding hands with women. I’ve been silenced by my family from talking openly about my identity. I’ve seen my trans lover be treated like shit, I’ve heard them be spoken to and stared at by strangers in ways that are not ok. I’ve met a wall of silence when mentioning an ex-girlfriend at work. I can’t talk to my grandad about non-straight relationships. And I know that most of the beautiful freaks, homos, fags, queens, bois, dykes, and onnnnn, would not be safe in most parts of Sydney.

Nowhere is safe, really.

So, no, now is not the time to shed one of the few popularly celebrated spaces that could – just maybe – be worked on and made to include everyone (and not just the WWW’s). We own the history, and our Elders deserve to keep what they built, even if the incarnation we currently have is worrisome. Where will the young ‘alphabet soup’ youth look to now? Is the best we can give them a gaystream, simpering, norming bunch of money hungry marriage-centric folk eager to throw away their heritage?

The straights have the rest of the world, after all. Do they need this too?

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About laketothelight

Feminist. Tea drinker. Cat snuggler. Canadian marryer. Queer. Fat. Lover of movement. View all posts by laketothelight

4 responses to “Norming Mardi Gras

  • Peter

    The decision to be inclusive of the general community by the renaming of the Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras is disgraceful. Here is a community which has fought for recognition in its own right in a city which has embraced it in one form or another, since the very origins of white settlement. This is simply a back door way of trying to “normalise” this vibrant and important element of Sydney and indeed most urban areas … even those in rural Australia, where smaller communities are starting to find their voice using events like the G&L MG as a rallying point.
    Its hard to imagine the fear that the straights behind this decision must feel or the compliance to the major religious groups they are pressured by in order to sate the need to bring everyone back to societal norms.
    Most of them have long forgotten who Jesus mixed with, who he stood up to and why he came in the first place. We are all God’s children.
    I will be adding my lonely voice to the calls of outrage at this decision. I have never seen a need to be fearful of difference. I am happy who and what I am and have never believed I had to change others to be like me in order that I could justify who I choose to be.

    • laketothelight

      Unfortunately, this decision was not made by straights. It was made without community consultation by the Chair of the GL Mardi Gras, Peter Urmson.

      From Same Same:

      “Former Mardi Gras President Richard Cobden has been particularly vocal. “This morning’s Sydney Morning Herald front page sums it up: Mardi Gras goes straight,” he tells Same Same.

      “Neither the organisation, and especially not this Board or staff, had any permission or mandate to make Mardi Gras straight. [Mardi Gras Chair] Peter Urmson says ‘this is our gift to the city’. It was not his to give.””

      The whole article here > http://www.samesame.com.au/news/local/7627/No-gays-no-lesbians-Mardi-Gras-rebrand-sparks-anger.htm

      People are already resisting. There’s a few facebook pages started already mobilising dissent. There’s talk of counter festivals, speaker lineups, and active vocal pushback.

  • sexulating

    To be clear, the organisation has reverted it’s name to Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, whilst the parade is has been retitled “Mardi Gras”. G&L Mardi Gras has stated that they still want participants to reflect their beliefs.

    I do not think inclusivity is a problem, per se. We need not be crying “The straights are coming! The straights are coming!” – Straight people are our friends, our family, our lovers, and our allies. Allowing them a voice in the parade, providing it maintains it’s focus, I do not feel is an issue in itself. This also allows for the legitimate inclusion of groups like Animal Liberation, and heterosexual polyamorous participants, for example.

    G&L Mardi Gras has been struggling for a while. One of their stated aims here is to garner more participation. Whilst I think outreach and consultation of radical grass-roots organisations would be the way to go, a lot of these groups have shunned Mardi Gras or any such organising for quite a while.

    The issue is that practically, this is about money, and the kind of parade we want to see would involve a lot of participants without much of it. Our enemy here is capitalism. The biggest corporations with the flashiest cash are going to end up influencing the tone of the parade, and we’re going to end up with a normative hoorah to the status quo.

    I am sad, but not shocked, that people are arguing that gays and lesbians (not to mention the rest of the alphabet soup) have achieved equality and thus no longer need a parade, just like those feminists should shut the hell up already, look, you can totally vote! Everything is equal! Whilst I do love the grass-roots organisations, and the awesome work they do, I am sad that they tend to be concentrated on the inner west, where being a queer generally isn’t as difficult as when you are stuck out in the country, where there are few to no services, bigoted attitudes, and you’ve never met an openly gay person in your life. As you stated, there are a whole bunch of places where there are still life-threatening risks accompanying being queer, and Mardi Gras is a small way to represent and reach these people; getting to see the parade on tv, or even to just know it is happening, and somewhere, there are queers, out on the street, existing openly.

  • Greg

    Thank you for this well written piece, it gives me some comfort that i’m not just a bitching, moaning crusty old queen. I think the board of MG have totally missed the point of what MG means for people (youth) outside the ‘2010’. You make a great point, that this was OUR one night to be who the fuck we want to be. ‘Why should YOU guys have a special night’ comes the cry from my boofhead strait workmates ‘Because 364 days of the year is yours’ is what i always reply. The sense of empowerment has fallen away from me now, i catch the train up to MG from Wollongong, and it’s the one time you can be yourself in front of the drunken meatheads and say ‘Fuck you, this is ‘OUR’ day’, now that’s gone, and i can’t begin to tell you what a sad loss that sense of empowerment is for so many people outside a few square miles in Sydney. I was disgusted, and horrified at the statement made in the announcement stating that in schools now it’s all good, it’s all fine, no one cares .. FUCK!, take the train on Mardi Gras night and see the baying for blood on there from the young school age yobs, they’re only going to get pissed and hopefully not be shitlisted by their girlfriends. I’ll be arrogant this one time, i ‘know’ i’m right in my belly that Mardi Gras have made a huge mistake, a very disrespectful mistake. Thanks for hearing me out, your’s in Gay (insert letter here) Pride, Greg.

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