43rd Mardi Gras returns to its protest roots

Pride in Protest in Sydney. Photo: Chloe de Silva
Pride in Protest in Sydney. Photo: Chloe de Silva

Pride In Protest organised a colourful and successful Mardi Gras march down Oxford Street on March 6, taking the event back to its protest roots.

The NSW Police had tried, but failed, to stop the 43rd Mardi Gras march down Oxford Street on the grounds of pandemic health restrictions.

On March 1, they said only 500 people would be able to march. But organisers refused to back down and, after a groundswell of support from MPs, 78ers and human rights organisations, NSW Health granted an exemption on March 5.

The pro-corporate New Mardi Gras had already decided last year to shift its parade to the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Oxford Street is where the original 1978 gay and lesbian pride parade was attacked by police: 53 people were arrested and many were assaulted while in custody.

This year’s rally had demands: it called on the NSW government to stop the transphobic bill being pushed by One Nation NSW MP Mark Latham; to decriminalise sex work; and to end the war on drugs.

Showing solidarity with other struggles, participants called for all refugees to be freed from detention and for justice for First Nations peoples.

Charlie Murray MCed the march. An acknowledgement to the country was given by Gadigal, Bidjigal, Yuin elder Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, who called on everyone to be ‘‘be proud of who you are.”

Newtown Greens MP Jenny Leong said: ‘‘We have had enough of your attacks, bullying and bullshit … We can march in the streets during the day and dance at the stadium at night. We can celebrate pride wherever we go because this city is proud,”

LGBTQI lawyer and refugee advocate Phinneas Harrison and co-convener of Community Action for Rainbow Rights April Halcombe also spoke.

Rosalina, an Arrernte person, discussed the stigma against sex work. “Just because of who we are, how we work and who we love … for the color of our skin, automatically, we are labelled criminals.”

78er Mark Gillespie started a chant from 1978 and could be heard across Oxford Street and in Hyde Park: “Stop police attacks on gays, women and blacks.” He said that pink washing corporations had taken over Mardi Gras, describing it as a betrayal of the original protest movement.