In a move that will delight some and dismay others, the board of New Mardi Gras has reversed its decision on the name of this year’s parade.
After a meeting of volunteers and member organisations on Monday, the board resolved to call the parade the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.
A decision to drop the words gay and lesbian from the parade name, announced in December, led to howls of protest from some community members.
Others welcomed the change, arguing that it signified a new era of inclusiveness for the organisation.
Given that the change of name had provoked such a strong response from members of the community, the Board decided to revisit this decision and respond to community opinion, New Mardi Gras co-chair Michael Woodhouse said.
[Monday’s] meeting strongly felt that New Mardi Gras must continue to be an inclusive organisation, particularly of transgender, bisexual and queer people, he said. A supporting statement to be used in conjunction with the name of the parade will indicate the organisation’s commitment to the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer communities.
While the name change divided the opinions of many in the community, it has emerged that the issue was just as divisive among New Mardi Gras board members.
Board co-chair Stevie Clayton yesterday confirmed that she had informed the board she would resign from her position if they were not prepared to revisit the name change issue.
From the day we announced the change, I was inundated with phone calls and emails from people who were critical of the change -¦ as well as the process, she said.
When questioned, Clayton revealed that she had not been present at the board meeting at which the name change decision had been made, although she had been party to a lot of prior discussion on the issue.
Sources suggested Clayton’s strong stance caused ructions in the board and led, at least in part, to the resignation of one other board member, Murray McLachlan. McLachlan served as President of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from 1986 to 1989.
McLachlan told the Star yesterday that he had informed the board on 30 December that he would resign if the organisation reversed its decision regarding the new name.
It was one of the elements of the resignation, he said. It was a threshold issue for me, and the board had reached an impasse.
However I think the board has done the right thing in terms of going back to the volunteers, McLachlan added.
Other participants at Monday’s meeting offered similar comments, generally praising New Mardi Gras for its readiness to respond to community concerns.
Parade Committee member Damon Hartley described the meeting as very valuable and said it showed that New Mardi Gras was approachable.
I thought it was wonderful that the board revisited the issue, as opposed to sticking to a decision no matter what, he said. They made a decision based on consensus.
While Monday’s meeting may see the settling of debate on this issue (at least temporarily), New Mardi Gras looks forward to staging its first festival, parade and party with a host of other concerns, including obtaining new sponsorships, securing user-pays exemptions for the parade on 1 March, and negotiating affordable public liability coverage for events.
The past month has seen a number of other members resign from the board, including treasurer Brendan Crotty, leaving a board of just seven members. Woodhouse and Clayton both stressed that the resignations were for personal and professional reasons and not because of the name-change issue, and that they were looking for skilled people to fill the vacancies.
Woodhouse conceded that sourcing board members was proving difficult in the wake of the demise of the former Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras as well as other gay and lesbian community enterprises such as Sydney 2002 Gay Games.
In our efforts to recruit people with good business expertise, we’re finding that the people we most want are all the people for whom it is most dangerous to be involved with an organisation which for whatever reason looks damaged, he said.