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Mardi Gras protest takes over Oxford Street

It was the first demonstration granted an exemption from Public Health Orders by NSW Health.

Photography by Aman Kapoor.

Approximately 3000 people attended Pride in Protest’s (PIP) Mardi Gras March on Saturday on Oxford Street. 

It was the first demonstration granted an exemption from Public Health Orders by NSW Health, at the 11th hour.

Leading up to the rally, organisers and COVID-19 marshals were deployed to register participants, distribute hand sanitiser, and issue advice concerning masks and social distancing.

Once the event began at 2pm, several contingents ranging from the Socialist Alliance, Leichardt Uniting Church, and university queer collectives occupied the pedestrian crossing between the Courthouse Hotel and National Art School —- leading to traffic disruption and a dramatic increase in police presence. 

At 2:06pm, various speakers curated by Pride in Protest took turns to address PiP’s grievances against the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) organisation, and  government policies which negatively impact the queer community. Aunty Rhonda delivered an Acknowledgement of Country, emphasising the intersection between Indigenous and LGBTQ+ justice. 

“To LGBTQIA people, I want you to know that you are all we need. It’s so important that you be your true selves and your authentic selves”.

Rhonda’s speech was followed by an address from Charlie Murphy from Pride in Protest. Afterwards, Greens MP Jenny Leong took the stage in an impassioned address to excoriate contentious religious freedom and curriculum reforms being considered by Federal and State governments. 

“… when it comes to the trans community whether it is the Religious Freedom Bill federally or at the state level, whether it is the so-called Education Bill, we say: get away, you bully.” Leong remarked, referring to trans-exclusionary provisions in One Nation MLC Mark Latham’s Parental Rights Bill which has been strongly condemned by university campaigners, Pip, and the National Union of Students as a threat to trans inclusion and queer equality. 

“We are not interested in you attacking trans young people and trans people in the community.”   

Mark Gillespie, a member of the 1978 generation and a former anthropologist at Usyd, passionately echoed protestors’ ire against NSW’s highly restrictive protest laws from his own experience.

“Civil liberties have been swept under the carpet,” Gillespie continued and referenced allegations of sexual assault against the former Attorney-General Christian Porter: “Look at the gender issue in our federal body politics…women are still attacked. Where is justice for the women of Australia?” 

Protestors then assembled at Oxford Street at 2.45pm while police cordoned off Oxford Street and diverted traffic from Flinders Street using horses. As they walked, protestors chanted a multitude of demands to the NSW and Federal Parliaments, such as echoing ongoing sexual assault controversies in the Federal Parliament: “Christian Porter, Alan Tudge, sexist homophobic thugs.”

Amongst some of the more notable moments was when Jazzlyn Breen, former SRC Education Officer, stopped and led the crowd in an energised chant highlighting PiP’s demands for an end to Latham’s bill, religious freedom legislations and discriminatory policies against LGBTQ+ people more broadly: “5…6…7…8, no right to discriminate!”

These chants culminated in a large gathering at 3.17pm between the intersections of Oxford, College and Wentworth. Here, marchers rallied against SGLMG. “Mardi Gras is not for profit!” protestors cried, echoing allegations that Mardi Gras has become corporatised.

Shortly thereafter, PiP was issued with move-on orders from police officers with members of the force forming a coordinated line behind protestors on Oxford Street. Seeing this, demonstrators denounced the increasingly heavy police presence by referencing the defunding movement that accompanied June 2020’s Black Lives Matter movement.

As the afternoon drew to a close at 3.40pm, protestors assembled near Hyde Park’s War Memorial to celebrate Mardi Gras with a selection of popular, queer-themed songs ranging from Diana Ross’ I’m Coming Out, Chic’s C’est Chic and Madonna’s Like a Prayer. 

The demonstration came to an end at 4pm, closing with an Acknowledgement of Country delivered by PiP organiser Russel: “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.”