By Tom Flanagan
SYDNEY — Participants at a public meeting of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras held on December 11 strongly supported the elimination of restrictions on bisexuals gaining Mardi Gras membership.
The meeting, attended by 40 people, heard that membership criteria had been tightened in 1996 in response to the growing number of people joining Mardi Gras since 1991, when membership became a criteria for buying tickets to the Mardi Gras party.
The current rules allow people to join if they tick a box on the membership application form indicating that they are gay, lesbian, homosexual or transgender. They must also indicate support for the Mardi Gras mission statement and be nominated by two Mardi Gras members.
People who identify as "bisexual" need to provide additional reasons to justify their membership before they can be accepted. This became an issue of sharp debate in 1999 when a bisexual man was refused membership despite having a long history of activism in lesbian and gay organisations.
Several speakers at the meeting argued that bisexuals should face no additional obstacles to membership; this proved to be the consensus of the meeting. Mardi Gras president David McLachlan indicated that he would argue for this position on the Mardi Gras Board.
The possibility of a two-tier membership structure was raised for consideration as an means of preventing the Mardi Gras voting membership being potentially dominated by those joining simply to secure party tickets. One tier would be for access to party tickets while another would include the right to vote, nominate new members and stand for election to the Mardi Gras Board.
Other speakers addressed Mardi Gras' low youth membership. The requirement for nomination by two existing members makes it harder for young people and those not close to the inner city scene to gain membership.
Currently, only 5% of Mardi Gras members are under 25 years of age. It was argued that the inclusion of more young people could enhance the dynamism of the organisation and help to increase the focus on sexuality rights. No resolution was reached on this issue, or on the proposal for a two-tier membership.