Queer Arab group Beit el Hob will not march in Saturday’s Mardi Gras parade.
Official suggestions for parade participants, under the theme Nations United, included dressing up as the national flag or other iconic imagery of countries they closely identify with, which Beit el Hob spokesman Nassim Arrage feared would be harmful to many from areas of conflict.
While we welcome the idea behind this year’s Mardi Gras theme, we’re really uncomfortable and concerned with the nationalistic agenda and overtones, he told Sydney Star Observer.
The use of flags in Australia is a highly political and contentious one. There’s this nationalism that is going on that doesn’t recognise that it’s actually alienating, or what celebrating nationality might mean to a queer Arab in the context of the world after 9/11 and anti-terrorism laws.
Beit el Hob raised its concerns with NMG, but had their requests for a pre-parade cultural sensitivity briefing rejected. For us as queer Arabs, that’s a dangerous area for us to go into, Arrage said.
We organise under the words -˜queer Arabs’ to avoid geopolitical issues, to try and bring our commonalities together rather than the things that would tear us apart.
The soundtrack for parody float Surry Hillsong will overlay the Islamic call to prayer with a Jewish spiritual song Avinu Malkeinu, alongside mixes featuring Dr Martin Luther King, gospel music, Hindu chants, Baptist preachings and Jedi.
Surry Hillsong organiser Ethel Yarwood said the float was intended to cause controversy.
NMG spokesman Damien Eames said they were disappointed Beit el Hob had decided not to participate this year, and rejected the idea the theme was potentially divisive.
This weekend you will see that there are is a huge variety of themes being expressed by parade entrants. Some fit clearly with Nations United. Some have nothing to do with it. It is ultimately up to parade entrants what they choose to do, he said.
Certainly from reading through descriptions of parade entrants there is a very positive emphasis on multiculturalism and diversity.