Jessica Ison’s recent piece ‘Our community has a short memory: why Liberals shouldn’t have marched in Mardi Gras’ caught my eye.

As a gay man who also happens to be a member of the Liberal party, I guess that was inevitable.

In her article, Ison applauds the action of the activist group ‘The Department of Homo Affairs’ for “disrupting” the parade, and protesting the inclusion of the Liberal float.

She goes further, arguing that Liberals should be excluded from Mardi Gras and expresses the hope that next year we “are not there at all.”

It is not clear if Ison is simply asking us to not turn up, wants the Liberal float banned, or is advocating for a kind of McCarthyist inquisition for anyone registering for the parade: ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Liberal
Party?’

In any case, she appears to believe that we do not belong at Mardi Gras, and has taken it upon herself to tell us so.

I was not at Mardi Gras this year. I have taken part in the parade with Liberal Pride before, and always found it be a great experience.

They are a supportive, fun, and inclusive group.

In the past I have found the crowds to be mostly glad to see us, and apart from some fairly gentle joshing, the vibe from the other groups is usually positive.

Personally, I enjoy the interaction. From what friends and colleagues who were there this year tell me, The Department of Homo Affairs was not especially disruptive.

For what it is worth, they sound to me to be totally in keeping with the subversive nature of Mardi Gras, and I support their right to be there and to protest peacefully.

Ison is right about Mardi Gras being a political event with protest at its heart. But this is exactly why Liberals should be there.

It is entirely appropriate for the policies of the Liberal party, and indeed of any other parties, to be protested at Mardi Gras.

However, excluding a legally registered political party from the event is something else. Missing from Ison’s piece is any acknowledgment that LGBTI Liberals actually exist. We do. We are part of the community that she speaks of, but seeks to exclude us from.

We, like you, were at the coal face of the struggle for equal marriage.

Between 2015 and 2017 there were a range of views on the wisdom of holding a marriage plebiscite within the party and within Liberal Pride.

I strongly opposed because I felt it went against liberalism itself, which holds that a minority groups rights should never be subject to the electoral whim of the majority.

I had plenty of debate with colleagues over this. Some shared my view, many did not.

Despite this disparity in views we never lost sight of the fact we were working towards the same goal.

Once it was clear the vote was going ahead I campaigned strongly for Yes because it was the right thing to do.

I don’t need to be lectured by anyone on the pain caused by the plebiscite because I lived it too. We all did.

I know there is still pain out there and I would not try to dismiss it. However, I also see a lot of joy particularly among couples marrying and making plans to marry.

Some Liberals have struck an overly triumphant note in characterising marriage equality as purely a Liberal victory.  

There is some frustration at this among the broader LGBTI community. I understand that frustration, and I say to my Liberal friends that in claiming our rightful share of the achievement, we also have to own our share of the process, which was at times extremely ugly.

Certain sections of the Coalition and the ALP alike allowed the issue to become politicised.

However, the fact remains that the reform was achieved under a Liberal-National government.

The highest Yes votes were recorded in Liberal voting electorates, with the highest No vote being recorded in Labor held electorates.

The bill that made marriage equality possible was drafted by Liberal Senator Dean Smith, a constitutional conservative and gay man.

Is Ison seriously arguing that he should not march? What of Tim Wilson, Trent Zimmerman, and Christine Forester?

What of our straight ally Warren Entsch who was supporting this issue long before the Greens? Should he be excluded from Mardi Gras?

And what of LGBTI young people of conservative and liberal persuasion for who Liberal Pride provides a safe environment to encounter Mardi Gras for the first time – should they be excluded?

Another quality absent from Ison’s analysis is consistency.

If the Liberals should be excluded from Mardi Gras what of Labor? The ALP had years in government to legislate marriage equality, but failed to do so.

One could extend this point to Ison’s criticism of the government’s asylum seeker policy.

By all means protest it, but seeking to ban Liberals from the parade is a little rich when you remember that Labor also supports offshore detention and boat turn backs. Is the ALP to be excluded too?

As Ison herself writes, “Mardi Gras started as a protest as well as a celebration and that is what it should still be.”

Like any Liberal, I support the right of peaceful protest. Both mine and yours.

However, protest ceases to be peaceful when it calls for the exclusion of others because we happen to disagree with their point of view.

Let’s go to Mardi Gras and protest our rights. Let’s talk to each other to find areas of agreement. Where we disagree, let’s do so without being disagreeable.

Above all let’s not seek to exclude each other either from the parade or from our shared community. Let us also celebrate what we have achieved together.

Cam Hawker is a Canberra-based academic and Liberal party member. These are his personal views.

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