Mardi Gras Inc’s attempt to sue activists rejected

January 31, 2022
Supporters of Pride in Protest organised to defeat Mardi Gras Inc's effort to sue activists.

A well-attended Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) annual general meeting (AGM) on January 29 voted overwhelmingly to not discuss anti-democratic motions from two SGLMG board members. The motions were aimed at excluding activist organisations.

SGLMG members Troy Murphy and Kyle Olsen had prepared motions to condemn and sue the grassroots organisations Pride in Protest (PIP) and Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR), to introduce associate membership status for members of these two groups, to ban motions that had been voted down at previous AGMs and to expel former SGLMG Board Director, PIP and trans rights activist Charlie Murphy.

As Jacqualine Hardy, SGLMG member and lesbian member of the LGBTI community, said in the January 19 Sydney Star Observer, the five motions and the board’s support seem more like control and governance not diversity, inclusivity and celebration.

The motions were not discussed, however, after '78ers Dianne Minnis and Ken Davis won a procedural motion — 549 for to 265 against — not to hear them. Two hundred people attended the meeting online, and there were 700 proxies.

SGLMG’s eight-person board said it would not support a number of other motions which attempted to orient Mardi Gras back to its grassroots origins, including that it: Cancel the Mardi Gras Police Accord; remove floats from the NSW Police, Australian Federal Police, NSW Corrective Services and the Australian Defence Forces; remove the Liberal Party’s float from the parade and the stall from Mardi Gras Fair Day because of its support for so-called religious freedoms; stand up for the rights of refugees in particular LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees and; end the sponsorship with American Express for its discrimination towards sex workers.

The board also refused to support PIP’s Mardi Gras Rally: Oxford Street Protest 2022 on the basis that it appropriated Mardi Gras branding.

It did, however, support gender transition leave and affirmed its opposition to the federal government’s Religious Freedom Bill, although it did not endorse or agree to promote the upcoming protest against it.

In addition to the Religious Freedom Bill, which puts the right to discriminate into law and would single out trans and gender-diverse students, Pauline Hanson's One Nation’s New South Wales MP Mark Latham is continuing his campaign for his Religious Freedom and Equality Bill.

Mardi Gras started in 1978 as a militant protest. Since then, the pink dollar has come to dominate and corporate sponsorships have overridden a community focus.

Companies that have backed Mardi Gras include ANZ, Google, Woolworths, Qantas, alcohol manufacturers CUB and Absolut, TikTok, Vodaphone, Loreal, SalesForce, furniture company Koala, dating application HUD, commercial radio network HIT and Star Sydney (the second largest casino in Australia).

This year, American Express outbid ANZ for principle partner status and Qantas, Google and Woolworths remain key sponsors.

PIP is challenging SGLMG’s pro-corporate agenda. Along with Community Action for Rainbow Rights and DIY Rainbow, they are organising a Mardi Gras Rally: Oxford Street Protest 2022 on March 5.

SGLMG is organising a ticketed 44th Mardi Gras parade inside the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) around a theme of Shine.

Murphy, an SGLMG board member from 2019–21, told Green Left that the SGLMG AGM was a “clear declaration” that members “won’t accept right-wing attacks on the left-wing who are leading the movement to stop the religious freedom bills”. But, she said, “it is shameful that the right-wing shut down debate to support the rally on Mardi Gras when we really need unified community action on the streets to defeat the bills".

Murphy was elected to the SGLMG board in 2019 where, as part of PIP, they successfully pushed for a motion to end pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences sponsorship. After Gilead, which produces the HIV prevention drug Truvada, was found to be price-gouging, PIP pushed for an ethics charter to assess potential sponsors.

PIP activist Alex Bouchet was elected alongside Murphy to the board in 2020. That year PIP gathered wide support for an Open Letter to the board to end its support for the NSW Police Force and NSW Corrective Services floats.

Last year, PIP organised a trans rights protest on the Mardi Gras weekend when the board had relocated the parade from Oxford Street to the SCG. The NSW Police tried, but failed to stop the march in the courts, and SGLMG then tried, but failed to stand Murphy and Bouchet down after they took part in the protest. Murphy and Bouchet were, however, reinstated.

The new SGLMG board includes PIP activists Wei Thai-Haynes and Bouchet. Jesse Matheson and Mel Schwerdt are its co-chairs. Giovanni Campolo-Arcidiaco, Louis Hudson, Rob Smith and Jan Hutton make up the rest of the board.

[Rachel Evans is a long-term LGBTIQ activist and a Socialist Alliance NSW Senate candidate. A protest against the Religious Discrimination Bill is being held on February 12, 1pm, at Sydney Town Hall.]

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