Some of the original Sydney Mardi Gras activists known as the 78ers have split from this year’s organisers, saying the board doesn’t “appreciate the pain and damage” the group suffered.
As the 40th anniversary Mardi Gras celebration draws nearer, members of the 78ers have raised concerns that their activism would not be duly recognised, according to ABC News.
The 78ers, many of whom are now pensioners, asked to receive free tickets to the party.
An online petition collected almost 1,500 signatures supporting free entry to the afterparty for about 100 of the 78ers.
Mardi Gras co-chair Brandon Bear acknowledged “everything we’ve done was built on the back of the 78ers” but said that the event was not just about them.
“We really wanted to find a balance in how we could work with the 78ers to make sure they were getting what they needed and a way to be respected and shown, but also paying respect to the fact there are other people in our history,” he said.
Bear said he would prefer to make more tickets available.
“But we really do have to draw a line,” he said.
The Mardi Gras board said in a statement that it supports the 78ers in ways including giving $10,000 toward their parade float, providing dedicated viewing areas, and allocating 20 free afterparty tickets each year.
Organisers said they would offer an extra 80 tickets to the party this year at a discounted price of $45 for the 78ers.
Responding to the board’s statement, community member Wendy Carlisle wrote in an open letter that the 78ers “deserve a free pass” for the 40th anniversary party, calling the board’s comments “offensive”.
“Many of these 78ers are still seeking justice for their treatment by police on that night,” she wrote.
“If there are no party tickets left perhaps board members might donate theirs as a gesture of goodwill.”
Peter Murphy said that relations between organisers and 78ers like himself have improved, but work remains and some organisers do not appreciate the event’s history.
“We feel like we’ve created something fabulous and lasting, it’s just that the people in charge now don’t quite appreciate us enough,” he said.
“People in the Mardi Gras board don’t appreciate the pain and the damage that was experienced.”
The annual glittery parade began in 1978 as an LGBTI rights protest that ended in dozens of arrests.
The work of the original activists is recognised as crucial in Australia’s queer history.
About 160 of the 78ers have registered to be part of this year’s parade float.
The Mardi Gras parade will be held on Saturday 3 March.