AS the hotly-contested election for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) Board heats up, two longstanding members have called for the removal of one of the organisation’s directors as they believe he poses a risk to its future.
Founding Mardi Gras member and former company secretary Liz Dods and former co-chair Paul Savage want current director James Brechney to be removed from his role after he called Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a ‘dickwad’ at a public rally and for Mardi Gras to return to its roots as a protest organisation.
“I have been a volunteer with Mardi Gras for 23 years and… I’ve come forward for the first time now because for the first time I’ve been involved I’m extremely worried some of the directors on the board and some of the behaviours and some of the risks they pose to the organisation,” Dods said.
“I was a big supporter of James because I thought he brought a lot of youth and dynamism, however he has shown himself not to be a cohesive member of the board.
“We do not need that behaviour from the member of the board of Mardi Gras.”
Brechney defended his comments, and claimed he made it clear at the rally that he was speaking as an individual and not as a director of the Mardi Gras board.
“No one knows who the Mardi Gras Directors are at these rallies,” he said.
“The people at the rally know me as the DIY Rainbow, previous OX Live host and Shift’s Q&Gay Forum Host. I have been speaking at rallies long before I joined the Board of Mardi Gras.
“I made it very clear in my speech that I don’t speak for Mardi Gras. I literally said it, it’s on tape.”
However, Savage and Dods are concerned Brechney’s comments could jeopardise SGLMG’s relationships with its stakeholders, which include corporate and government sponsors.
“His actions at that marriage equality rally, where he called the Prime Minister a dickwad and suggested that there was going to have be some kind of vigilantism around marriage equality, that scared me and made me think this is not a good candidate for the board,” Dods said.
Savage added that it has taken the organisation a long fight with the government to be recognised as a charitable organisation and to get tax free donations.
“It really risks that funding,” he said.
“Having vigilantes who are lobbying the community to take action, then you are absolutely put the whole organisation and its future existence at risk.”
Dods and Savage argue that while there is a need for LGBTI organisations to fight for the community, it is not the job of SGLMG to lobby governments on social issues and legislation, “that’s the lobby’s job”.
“Mardi Gras is there to support the community and bring these groups together and for them to say whatever they want to say in the parade and we are there as a platform to allow other groups to speak, to express their issues,” Dods said.
“Our job is to be there to support them, allow them (other organisations) to express themselves, especially during season is to express themselves.”
However, Brechney who was censured at a SGLMG board meeting on Wednesday night disagrees.
“Mardi Gras has always been political, as it should be. My comments didn’t do any of those things (compromise the organisation),” he said.
“It already is (political), it’s just been a little bit asleep for the last 10 years.
“Mardi Gras has been a locked shop for a long time. We need to open it up, encourage more members and volunteers to get involved and reset many of our relationships in the community.
“We do need to say more about marriage equality, the attack against Safe Schools and funding of PrEP.
“I’ve noticed I’m the only candidate that mentioned these social issues in the candidate statements but now many other candidates are using these points on their posters. Good on them. I’m thrilled they are embracing my policies.”
A number of SGLMG members have spoken out in support of Brechney, while others have supported Dods and Savage’s concerns.
Satirist Pauline Pantsdown said Brechney represents a section of the community that are not always represented by Mardi Gras, but admitted the organisation is in a difficult position as its seen as peak body which is meant to represent all LGBTI people and must as least seem to present a range of voices.
Pantsdown called out people who had criticised Brechney’s paid professional career in retail as not being sufficient experience to sit on a board as “class snobbery”.
“I think James should be director for several reasons. Firstly he hasn’t done anything wrong,” Pantsdown said.
“I think the censure motion is a bigger problem than what James actually said at that rally.
“In taking that action against James, they’re showing an intolerance to the breadth of ideas. I want to see dissent within Mardi Gras… when you’ve got an organisation that hid reports of a theft until it built up to a point where it came out in front page headlines, then I think they should start to be a bit more open to ideas.
“He’s a representative voice and I think it’s sad they tried to shut him down.”
Iz Connell, Sydney Leather Pride committee member and former Mardi Gras Youth committee member, said while Mardi Gras has political roots and can facilitate political events, it is an organisation with deductible gift recipient (charity) status and is not supposed to be a lobby group.
“Mr Brechney also needs to realise that when he speaks at public events and introduces himself as a director of SGLMG, he does in fact represent the membership, and needs to act accordingly, even if he prefaces statements by saying it’s just his opinion,” she said.
“Whilst I understand the logic behind uninviting the Member for Wentworth from the parade, he shouldn’t announce this without consultation with members, the other directors and relevant stakeholders.
“I’d like to see candidates elected who will listen to the membership and balance sponsorship interests with collectivism and community interests. I’m yet to see solid proof that Mr Brechney is capable of or willing to do this.”
Dods said as SGLMG members decide for whom they will cast their vote in the upcoming elections she wants to see “responsible candidates not populist candidates” elected to the board.
“I want people tor really consider who they’re voting for and the depth and level of experience they have not only with Mardi Gras, but with companies they may have run, people that aren’t going to run off to the media at the drop of the hat,” she said.
“I wouldn’t be speaking out if I didn’t think there was a risk to a lot of aspects to the organisation.”
Brechney who did have a comment to provide about his censure believes his track record as a Mardi Gras director is proof that he should be reelected.
“Look at my record of the last two years as a director of Mardi Gras,” he said.
“I have brought in more corporate sponsorship than any other director, I have pushed us to have a theme that finally has a social justice issue behind it.
“I throw a float of 100 people every year and understand what is happening at the front line. I have great judgment and have carried out my responsibilities.
“A good director needs to be able to confidently have uncomfortable conversations, question what is going on and why – and I’ve had many of those conversations. I campaign, I host LGBTQI conversations, I listen.”
New SGLMG membership registrations close this Friday October 28 and the board elections will be held from October 31 via electronic voting. SGLMG membership costs $15.