Mardi Gras goes back to the streets, but pink washing continues

February 6, 2023
Protesting the religious discrimination bill in February last year. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade is returning to Oxford Street on February 25, after being held in the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for two years during the pandemic. On its 45th anniversary, the parade is being incorporated into Sydney WorldPride 2023, a two-week festival celebrating LGBTIQ people.

The parade is expected to attract record numbers to march for LGBTIQ rights. This is because it will return to its original protest site and it is the centrepiece of Australia’s first ever WorldPride 2023.

“After two years delivering the world-class Parade through the pandemic, we couldn’t be more excited to see the community unite once more on Oxford Street,” Sydney Mardi Gras CEO Albert Kruger said.

The return to Oxford Street is significant for the LGBTIQ community, because it makes the link back to its protest roots. Oxford Street is where the original 1978 gay and lesbian pride parade was attacked by New South Wales Police: 53 people were arrested and many were assaulted while in custody.

For many, the move to the SCG symbolised the growing influence of corporate pink washing on the parade, with sponsored floats and ticketed entry fees.

At last year’s parade, ’78er Barbara Karpinski was ejected from the SCG by police for holding a placard protesting the war in Ukraine.

This was condemned by Pride in Protest (PiP), a Sydney-based LGBTIQ activist group, which publicised an open letter denouncing the police presence at the parade, and urged the Mardi Gras board to remember the origins of the parade.

PiP has long condemned the corporatisation of Mardi Gras and the police’s inclusion in the parade because of its homophobic record.

PiP held a lively “take back Oxford Street” protest in 2021 and last year, despite police attempts to prevent it, citing pandemic restrictions.

More than 200 floats will be included in this year’s parade. However, according to the Sydney Morning Herald last September, 30% of applications have been rejected — including the NSW Teachers’ Federation (NSWTF) and the Gender Centre.

Of the approved floats, 14% are corporate sponsors. But there is still contention about the approval process, with veteran marchers and LGBTIQ services being rejected.

The NSWTF has marched in the parade for the past 10 years. Mardi Gras co-chair Jesse Matheson claimed the knock back was due to high demand. However, the NSW Department of Education has a float — for the first time. Given how teachers are being treated by the department, some are not happy about participating in the department’s float.

Despite being a leading provider of services to the transgender community in NSW, the Gender Centre was also denied a spot. “We provide over 90 per cent of trans-specific services to the community in NSW,” health and communications manager Eloise Brook told the SMH. “We’re big — and it’s our birthday.”

The centre marks its 40th anniversary this year, and members of the transgender community believe that its exclusion from the parade highlights just how out of touch Mardi Gras organisers are.

[Pride in Protest is holding a Mardi Gras street rally on February 19. Green Left is hosting a forum, Highlighting LGBTIQ struggles at World Pride on February 28 at the Sydney Resistance Centre.]

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