What’s in a name? A Mardi Gras in Sydney will always be Our Mardi Gras. It’s not 1981, or even 1991, folks. And, particularly, it’s not 2002.
Throughout its history, Mardi Gras has had significant periods of transition about every 10 years. Around 1981, the huge community controversy was the shift of the parade from winter to summer. And look where that ended up!
In 1988 the huge community controversy was the proposal to change the name of ‘Sydney Gay Mardi Gras’ to ‘Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’. And look where that ended up!
Of anything I might have achieved from my years being married to Mardi Gras, it is this name change of which I am most proud. In many ways it was an idea whose time had come.
Women had been coming back to Mardi Gras for some years and were increasingly placing their stamp on it. But many felt threatened by the name change. Didn’t ‘gay’ include ‘lesbian’? ‘The dykes are taking over!’ Well no, it didn’t. And no, they didn’t. But the organisation and its events had a base on which to enter the ’90s.
And in 2002? The New Mardi Gras board struggled with what to call its events, particularly the parade. It needed to be distinguished from the collapse of Old Mardi Gras. And serious consideration needed to be given to the lack of inclusiveness of ‘gay and lesbian’.
One of the great community controversies of the 1990s had been the place of bisexuals in the organisation and its events. By the new millennium, ‘queer’ had entered the lexicon, many of us had learnt more about gender identity, and there was a need to welcome intersex people into the fold.
My solution was to adopt the title ‘Sydney Mardi Gras’ for the parade, and the motion I moved at a board meeting was approved. An idea whose time had come, or was I a premature ejaculator on this? It would seem the latter, as at the next meeting the female co-chair engineered a recision motion. I felt I couldn’t continue on the board given that reversal and resigned soon after.
I felt confident though, having set up New Mardi Gras’ constitution committee with the right blend of Mardi Gras veterans and some fresh young activists, that NMG could at least put in place a constitution that removed old Mardi Gras’ discrimination against bisexuals and created a much more inclusive organisation.
In 2011 and the ‘Sydney Mardi Gras’ are we seeing an idea whose time has come or is it back to the future? Yes, it is an idea whose time has come. And finally, it’s not back to the future, but forward with confidence that Mardi Gras in Sydney will be Our Event for as long as we want it to be, and confidence that we’ll continue to amuse and amaze. And continue to say to young people, ‘Welcome home!’. Happy Mardi Gras!
INFO: Murray McLachlan was president of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from 1986 to 1989, and a board member of New Mardi Gras in 2002.