Last week, New Mardi Gras announced that next year’s parade would be the 2003 Sydney Mardi Gras Parade. Wherever possible we also resolved to carry the words celebrating 25 years of identity and diversity in the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer communities. On balance we decided this was better than including the words gay and lesbian in the title.
This was not a simple decision. On one hand including the words gay and lesbian is a way of promoting visibility. In recent years, whether straight sponsors and the mainstream media were prepared to use the full name had been a litmus test of their support for our community. On a practical level, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was just short enough to be used on posters and in the media. It distinguished our events on the calendar and didn’t stop the organisation including entries from people who didn’t identify as gay or lesbian.
On the other hand, the words gay and lesbian could never hope to sum up the range of ideas and expression that make up this parade. Parade entries have been used to promote social groups, take the piss out of contemporary culture and make political statements about issues that affect Australia generally, such as refugee policy or higher education. The parade is not only about being lesbian or gay. It is also about our political views, about being a proud mum or seeing a damn good joke in the affairs of the Chinese swim team. Arguably, gay and lesbian is too short a summary of what the parade is all about, especially against a background of fairly ugly debates within Mardi Gras over issues of membership.
Internationally, only a handful of parades and festivals use some or all of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or transsexual in their title. Most do not. Some use subtitles or other forms of acknowledgment. In North America, there are Pride marches. In Germany they are Christopher Street Days. In London it became a Mardi Gras a few years back and others in the UK have followed suit. Brisbane has a Pride Festival. Adelaide has Feast. Melburnians celebrate during Midsumma that runs with a subtitle of Melbourne’s gay and lesbian festival.
Sydney doesn’t have to be like everyone else. That is for our community to decide.
But all of these events put gay and lesbian issues on the agenda, depending on how many people march and what happens while they do.
New Mardi Gras has been clear about being a values-driven organisation. One of those is inclusion. We want to include people who identify as transgender, bisexual and queer. We also want to include people turned off by the perception that Mardi Gras spent too much time debating identity politics.
Visibility is another value. The best way we can increase visibility is to have a huge number of people participating, making strong statements as they march up Oxford Street. New Mardi Gras will do its bit by making sure that publications reflect who this season is about and that the media has full information about who is part of it. At the end of the day, how much the parade raises our visibility depends on how many people choose to put in an entry.
Whatever you think about next year’s name, this is only a decision for 2003. The current consultation process and the next board will make decisions for 2004 and beyond. Signing up for membership and contributing to the consultation process are the best ways to air your views.
Over a hundred people are volunteering at least 15 hours a week to make sure that Mardi Gras goes ahead in 2003. There are no paid staff. Countless others are putting in the same kind of hours to get parade entries ready for 2003.
How many people get involved and how well they participate is what will keep Mardi Gras alive in the future. If you want to support gay and lesbian visibility, join us and March First.