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Mardi Gras protest granted exemption by NSW Health in ‘massive win’

This is the first protest to be granted an exemption by NSW Health.

Pictured: NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard,

NSW Health has granted an exemption for Pride in Protest’s Mardi Gras march tomorrow, allowing the event to have up to 1500 people and exceed the current political gatherings limit of 500.

More than 1100 people have RSVPed for tomorrow’s march, with over 3200 interested.

This is the first protest to be granted an exemption by NSW Health. As a result, NSW Police have withdrawn Supreme Court proceedings against organisers.

The approval comes after significant community pressure, including letters of support from Greens, Labor and Independent Members of Parliament, as well as 78ers — a group of activists who marched in the first Mardi Gras in 1978.

“This is a massive win for not only the right to protest, but for the queer community to say that the fight against transphobia and homophobia cannot wait,” an official statement by Pride in Protest read. “The police will not stand in the way of our community demanding our rights this Mardi Gras.”

Under the exemption, attendees will be broken up into groups of 500 — similar conditions to the Invasion Day rally on January 26th. There will be rigorous COVID-19 safety measures including contact tracing, social distancing, wearing of face masks, and dispensing of hand sanitiser.

Pride in Protest organiser Toby Walmsley told Honi that there has been “very high compliance at past protests,” noting that Invasion Day’s rally saw over 8,000 QR code signups. Walmsley also noted that there have been no transmissions as a result of rallies in Australia thus far due to the careful planning of organisers.

Unlike the Invasion Day rally, however, organisers confirmed that a march and occupancy of the road will proceed at tomorrow’s event. It is unknown whether police will intervene or how large the police presence will be.

“We’ve sought all of the appropriate exemptions. There’s no case that NSW Police have to bring,” Evan Gray, another Pride in Protest organiser, told Honi. “If they do come in numbers, then that’ll be because they’ve decided to bring trouble for no legal basis.”

“We know that we can make it safe if we’re given the ability to work with the crowds effectively,” Walmsley added. 

Despite the exemption, organisers stressed that ongoing restrictions on the right to protest must be lifted: “It shouldn’t have to get to the point where the Health Minister has to give an exemption to allow people to protest,” said Joel MacKay of Amnesty International. 

“The NSW Government needs to review the COVID guidelines as soon as possible to expand the cap of how many people can attend a peaceful protest. Last weekend, we had up to 5,000 people participating in a triathlon in the South Coast.”

Oscar Chaffey and Honey Christensen, Queer Officers at the University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council told Honi that “this is a win for queer liberation against a system that is structured to oppress and silence us.”

“Tomorrow, the streets will be, as they always have been, ours. Mardi Gras will show that our community is beautiful, resilient and can not be silenced by the NSW police. Not 43 years ago, not now.”