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?