'Riot' film screening marks anniversary of the 1978 Mardi Gras

'Riot' recreates the first Mardi Gras protest in 1978. Image: IMDB

A screening of the award-winning film Riot was organised by Green Left and Socialist Alliance Sydney on July 16 to celebrate the 44th anniversary of the 1978 Mardi Gras. The film was followed by a discussion featuring 78ers Ken Davis, Robyn Plaister and Pride in Protest activist Wei Thai-Haynes.

Riot first screened on the ABC in 2018 and received the Australian Film Institute award for Best Telefeature, Mini Series or Short Run Series.

Davis, who helped organise the first Mardi Gras, discussed the context for the protest. He described how unions, feminist and gay liberation movements and the First Nations movement for land rights contributed. “‘Stop police attacks on gays, women and blacks’ was an overriding chant at the time,” he said.

Davis was a member of the Socialist Youth Alliance at the time. He said the pro-gay socialist left included the democratic wing of the Communist Party of Australia and the Socialist Workers' Party.

Plaister, portrayed in the film by Jessica De Gouw, was another key organiser. Then a maths teacher, she almost lost her job after the Sydney Morning Herald published a photo of her at the protest.

Plaister described the debates between gay men and lesbian women at the time, the splits over sexism in the movement and the campaigns lesbian women waged to keep their children against sexist ex-husbands and courts. She said lesbians often had to resist being placed in mental institutions and resist electro shock therapy and “corrective” surgery.

Plaister said the fight for liberation is “not over”, adding “conversion therapy needs to be outlawed”.

Thai-Haynes described the pink washing of the LGBTIQ rights movement. “World Pride events have been commodified out of the reach of working class queers and allies.” The three-day World Pride Human Rights Conference is priced at $1500, which Thai-Haynes described as “exclusive” and “an outrage”.