New Mardi Gras organisers called police to Community Action Against Homophobia's (CAAH) peaceful banner action at Fair Day on February 18. Fair Day is the annual lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) picnic in Sydney's massive Mardi Gras calendar.
Mardi Gras arose out of a march against homophobia in 1978 that was brutally repressed by police, who beat protesters, and jailed and tortured some of them in police cells. The police repression fuelled Australia's gay and lesbian rights movement and led to the annual Mardi Gras month of activities.
So, this year, when New Mardi Gras called police onto CAAH's "Civil union and marriage rights now!" banner, LGBTI rights campaigning was dealt a blow.
Activists from QueerRuption were similarly censored when they handed out "unauthorised" anti-war leaflets at the picnic three years ago. Pink Sofa, a lesbian internet dating site, was refused a stall this year because GayDar, another gay/lesbian internet site, paid New Mardi Gras to block their "competitors". Fed up with the corporate nature of Fair Day, some queer activists this year organised an alternative festival in another park.
CAAH explained in a media release after the event, "We walked around the park to profile civil union and marriage issues, and ended up at the New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby [GLRL] Sea of Hearts event. Ten New Mardi Gras security guards surrounded CAAH activists holding the banner at the Sea of Hearts.
"The security guard in charge accused one CAAH activist of assaulting her and aggressively told CAAH they were not allowed to be in the Sea of Hearts space. CAAH was told security would lay charges against the CAAH activist for assault if CAAH did not move their banner." The security guards then called the police, who instructed the activists to move the banner on.
Simon Biber, a convener of CAAH, said, "We were shocked and appalled that the New South Wales Lobby did not even look at us when the police were abusing us". Shelly Dahl, another CAAH convener, added, "These organisations that purport to stand up for our rights need to apologise to CAAH and promise the community that they will never call police onto LGBTI activists again."
Biber noted, "When the government and strangers are beating up on us in parliament, in the media and in the streets, shouldn't we be striving for more unity, not less? Calling cops onto us ... just plays into Howard and company's hands."
CAAH is asking people to protest against the police being used against activists by contacting New Mardi Gras on (02) 9568 8600, and the GLRL on (02) 9360 6650 or <email@example.com >.
[Rachel Evans is an upper house candidate for the Socialist Alliance in the March 24 NSW election.]