The Move To Ban Morrison From Mardi Gras Must Be Defeated

Sitting on my windowsill is a framed collage of every front page splash from that triumphant day the marriage equality Yes vote was announced, and in the corner of that frame is a badge with two words: stronger together.

Their poignant succinctness still sends both warmth and chills down my spine.

But, almost a year on, that strength and unity is under threat.

At this Saturday's Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras AGM, two controversial motions will be debated: uninviting Scott Morrison to Mardi Gras and banning the Liberal Party and the Australian Federal Police from having a float in the 2019 parade.

A group called 'Pride in Protest' is standing four candidates on this platform for board election.

They raise some really important points and I think it’s essential they’re heard. But the outcome they’re hoping for by making those points scares me.

Banning the Prime Minister and the police from Australia’s biggest celebration of LGBTQI identity? It’ll be a regressive step, aimed at segregating the LGBTQI community into a Marxist and Socialist Worker silo where we only speak to ourselves. We’ll be ruled by the dogmatic extreme Left, who refuse to listen to any views that contradict their own and never matured out of student politics. Please, no.

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The Pride in Protest group does, it must be said, make compelling arguments.

Writing for New Matilda, two of its members, Holly Brooke and Bridget Harilaou, have said:

“From denying children anti-bullying programs, legislating against marriage equality, supporting the expulsion of queer students and firing of teachers, illegally detaining queer refugees in nations where homosexuality is criminalised, to promoting brutal gay conversion therapy.

A Liberal float in Mardi Gras sends the message that the party can actively oppose our rights yet still capitalise on our community’s spirit when it is politically useful.”

Their motion to ban the AFP includes:

"The NSW Police sniffer dog program, which the NSW Police uses to disproportionately target young people and LGBTIQA+ people (including at Mardi Gras events)."

Do we really want to go back to the dark days of ‘us and them’?

Yes, Mardi Gras started as a protest in 1978, against police brutality and conservative forces which sought to oppress us. But it has evolved into a cultural celebration of all things LGBTQI. Seeking to ban people from an event all about inclusion is myopic, especially as the group is being willfully ignorant about the progress that has been made. Citing the ancient 2004 Liberal move to legislate against marriage equality is an example of that.

Sydney Mardi Gras has evolved into an important cultural movement since its beginnings as a protest in 1978. (Image: AAP)

Yes, Scott Morrison abstained from voting on marriage equality in 2018, as did seven other Liberal MPs. One Liberal MP voted No. But that’s out of a total of 59 Liberal politicians. That’s a huge change from 2004. Even Peter Dutton voted Yes.

There was no such move to ban Julia Gillard, who consistently spoke out against marriage equality, hugely damaging the cause.

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Absolutely, we should hold to account our elected representatives on issues such as homophobic bullying, ‘gay conversion’ therapy, detaining refugees, respecting LGBTQI teachers and pill testing. Liberal party policy on all these issues leaves much to be desired.

But in the rock, paper, scissors game of campaigning, ‘persuading’ is the rock which crushes the scissors which seek to cut, ban and erase.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull enjoys a drink at Sydney Mardi Gras in March this year. (Image: AAP)

Many of those 50 Yes-voting Liberals could’ve been No voters fifteen years ago. They’d have remained No voters if we’d have disinvited them to Mardi Gras in the years after 2004, preventing them from seeing the tender love and care the LGBTQI community has for each other, and the contagious joy, colour and diversity they bring to Australian life.

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Until campaigners end their tribalism, progress will be glacial. That means getting in bed with political parties and organisations and newspapers groups containing columnists and politicians they disagree with, and trying to see things from their point of view. Both places can be broad churches. Empathy beats pugnaciousness.

It’s a huge challenge to represent everyone but the current Mardi Gras CEO Terese Casu, who I interviewed just before the Mardi Gras 40th anniversary last year, is doing a stellar job. The parade was led by the Dykes on Bikes, as is tradition, closely followed by the 78ers and the First Nations float, the Sistagirls (indigenous LGBTQI people). In a gay scene uncomfortably obsessed with youth and embarrassingly dominated by white men, my gay pride was seeing these people so crucial to our community put front and centre.

Dykes on Bikes lead the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade.  (Image: AAP)

The protest group’s additional immature opposition to relationships with corporate sponsors such as Qantas and ANZ would likely bankrupt the organisation which, under Casu’s stewardship, is in the black for the first time in years.

Mardi Gras can still be about protest. We live in a wonderfully free country where that’s possible. Instead of banning, we should be encouraging Morrison to come. As well as letting him see the love, let him see the protest.

Let him read your placards and hear your chants and be ridiculed by drag queen witticisms. Let him witness the pain his party’s divisive postal ballot inflicted. Hell, let him be burnt by the boos and awed by the power of our community.

There is no better platform from which to parade our strength and togetherness. Our community, whether protesting or loving, will be heard. We shall persuade. And we shall overcome.