World Pride, rainbow washing and tolerance

March 16, 2023
The Pride in Protest contingent at Mardi Gras in February. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

World Pride, a 17-day LGBTIQ event, came to Sydney from February 17–March 5. It was an extravaganza of concerts, exhibitions, light shows, a Fair Day picnic, the Mardi Gras parade and it culminated in a Pride march over the Harbour Bridge.

Broadly speaking, it showcased just how accepted the LGBTIQ community is. However, its corporatisation meant that the poorest section of the community was unable to take part.

World Pride, which began in Rome in 2000, is organised by InterPride, an international organisation dedicated to promote LGBTIQ pride and rights. It has been to Israel, London, Canada, Spain, New York, Denmark, Washington and the Netherlands.

Sydney’s theme was “Gather, Dream, Amplify”. The New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, which became the organising committee, gathered significant corporate funding from American Express, Optus, Coles, MINI Australia,, TikTok, Deloitte, Absolut and Little Creatures.

Alcohol companies spammed the city, increasing the vulnerability of that section of the LGBTIQ community already struggling with their health.

American Express took over the Oxford Hotel, painted it blue, and named it Amex House for 17 days. “American Express yourself” was graffitied up and down the footpaths of the two main LGBTIQ suburbs — King Street in Newtown and Oxford Street in Darlinghurst. Its logo was plastered on the Pride Festival stage so any performer in the 8-hour line-up was branded.

Not to be outdone by corporations funding Pride, Sydney became awash with pink washing from every other corporation looking to cash in.

As Mumbrella reported, Coca-Cola brought back its “Love Cans”; Treasury Wines Estates’ Squealing Pig had nine-limited pride labels on its 750ml rosé bottle; and effervescent energy tablet brand Vöost partnered with the world’s first openly gay professional male footballer, Adelaide United player Josh Cavallo, for its “Celebrate All Flavours” campaign.

Bonds produced an “unGENderwear” campaign, a “This Is Love” collection was produced by Calvin Klein, real estate company LJ Hooker decked itself out in rainbow colours and even The Veronicas partnered with American Express.

World Pride also received millions from the NSW government and the Sydney City Council. Arts minister Ben Franklin said he hoped it would bring $112 million of “dazzle” into the “visitor economy”.

World Pride CEO Kate Wickett told the Sydney Morning Herald in February she was paid $1.5 million to organise World Pride.

Yet, the cost of several events was prohibitive to many: tickets to the Bondi Beach party were $179; for the three-day LGBTIQ Human Rights Conference you had to fork out $2000 (although First Nations people and some LGBTIQ who could prove their worth could get discounted, but still expensive tickets).

All attendees were greeted by two police vans and a contingent of police officers, despite the history of police violence against the community.

In a somewhat patronising gesture, the keynote Labor speakers Senator Penny Wong and NSW Legislative Council Member Penny Sharpe promised funding for an LGBTIQ advisory body for Asia Pacific countries.

They also pledged a one-off $26 million fund for LGBTIQ health in Australia. However, they didn’t promise to end the $60 million a year in federal funding for religious chaplains in schools.

There was no promise to dump the bigoted religious discrimination bill. Nor did Labor promise to add the sex and gender diverse/trans community into the 2026 census, or provide self-ID options, free sex change operations or gender care leave. They did not promise to push to remove the transphobic “gender dysphoria” label from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Nor did NSW Labor promise it would deliver justice to the families of those murdered in gay hate crimes from 1970–2000.

World Pride was savvy enough to include LGBTIQ community organisers and anti-prejudice and bigotry messages from grassroots groups. It was good to see Bangladeshi groups marching for the first time in the Mardi Gras parade and a large “Protect trans kids” float taking centre stage.

The Harbour Bridge Pride march was a significant statement of tolerance — a reminder of what has been achieved by community organising, over decades, for rights and visibility.

The intolerant right, a handful of whom marched down King Street in Newtown, days later, is for the moment marginalised. But we still do need to ensure that laws change to reflect the widespread view that gender is a personal matter that needs to be protected and respected.

[Rachel Evans is a long-term LGBTIQ campaigner. She is running for Socialist Alliance in Heffron.]

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