Mardi Gras should be more than a party

Issue 

Mardi Gras should be more than a party

By Anne Hellewig

SYDNEY — The world famous annual gay and lesbian Mardi Gras took place here on March 4. It drew spectators and participants from all over the world, and the parade was televised around the country.

Mardi Gras means big bucks. According to the festival's general manager, Mark Groggin, 1999 sponsorship revenue increased by 30% compared to the previous year, to $564,624. Economists talk about the "pink dollar" and large corporations are increasingly trying to cash in on the popularity of Mardi Gras.

While most of the gay and lesbian community regard the event as tremendously important, many believe Mardi Gras has become too mainstream and too commercial.

The parade and associated events do help to highlight the fact that gay men and lesbians exist, and that they have rights. Some groups use the event as an opportunity to distribute information and raise political issues.

The political floats organised by the student organisation Queer Collaborations have been some of the most popular in the parades over the last few years.

Nestled amongst the stalls of feathers and fur on Mardi Gras fair day on February 20 were activist centres distributing information about homosexual rights.

However, also present were Labor and Liberal party stalls. These are the same parties that refuse to change discriminatory laws on homosexual marriage, child-rearing and sexual activity — laws that affect gays' and lesbians' rights to inheritance, worker's compensation, hospital visitation and property.

And once again, the NSW police had a contingent marching in the parade this year.

There is still a long way to go before gay and lesbian liberation is reached. Turning the Mardi Gras into an apolitical event stifles its potential, and even invites in reactionary elements.

Ian Tetro, Pepsi's marketing director, stated in the January 23 Australian Financial Review, "Mardi Gras is all about partying". With so much to win — and lose — it should be much more than that.