It’s hard to imagine that Mardi Gras began as a protest in 1978, organised by anarchists, Trotskyists and radical feminists who wanted to challenge the status quo and make real change. If you look at video recordings of the organising collective for the protest at the time, they debated whether we should even recognise the legitimacy of the law. The result of their efforts was a protest march with 2 000 people who demanded an end to discrimination in housing, employment, and police harassment and called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Now, Mardi Gras is a glamorous tourist attraction where we dance to Madonna in hot pants in order to make $30 000 000 per year for governments that encourage waves of police to target and arrest us at our own events.
At the Mardi Gras Harbour Party over the weekend, the poorly attended event was crawling with police striving for arrests with the help of sniffer dogs. With a failure rate of approximately 80%, this inevitably led to many unnecessary and humiliating public strip searches.
This moving away from an act of dissent would be less galling if the exact issues the original Mardi Gras protesters fought for were not still on the agenda and as pressing than ever.
In recent years, there have been severe cuts to public housing that queers often depend on, de-funding of LGBT health and welfare services, and a proposal from Julia Gillard to allow religious organisations the right to discriminate.All these important issues are increasingly swept under the rug as we clamour to support a parade that features delegates from the military, the anti-worker ANZ, and the Liberal Party who are responsible for violating our rights.
This is nothing if not selling out. Our desire to speak out and stand up has been drowned out by a desire to drape ourselves in colour and be visible in the eyes of the wealthy. A telling example of this, perhaps, is the way segments of the queer community have organised in support of Clover Moore’s pretty but useless rainbow road.
A look at the minutes of the City of Sydney Council meeting show that the road, which was organised by a Mayor who declined to comprehensively support public housing in her election, costs $110 000 in total.
That Clover Moore, the Liberal Party, the ALP, and organisations like ANZ support queer events when it’s beneficial for them, means nothing for the advancement of queer rights.
Applauding such a superficial push for queer rights is nothing if not counter-productive. It distracts our community from the real and frightening challenges that actually exist.
If we as a queer community do care about our rights then we need to open our eyes, get out of the bars and onto the streets, and protest more than just once a year.