The Herald headline said ‘Mardi Gras festival goes straight’. Should it surprise us? For years now, many people have wondered whether Mardi Gras had become more interested in selling its brand than promoting the principles for which it was founded.

But we have tolerated that because it still managed to provide our most significant and joyous celebration of gay and lesbian pride and sexual diversity, while simultaneously honouring all we have achieved.

Now Mardi Gras has decided to ditch ‘gay and lesbian’ – to be more ‘inclusive’. And they wonder why that immediately gets interpreted as ‘going straight’. The implication of their decision is that others cannot celebrate the achievements of the gay and lesbian communities and so, to make them feel more comfortable and included, we should not overtly acknowledge our various sexualities at all. Just some wishy-washy concept of ‘universal love’.

One justification for this decision is that terms like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ are less relevant now – but where is the evidence for this claim? This same argument has been repeated ad nauseum for over 30 years, yet all the survey data show that most homosexual people still identify with these words, and they do so at similar rates to what they always have.

Of course, as social attitudes have changed, people have also changed how they use these terms. But that is not the same as saying they are no longer relevant in people’s lives.

Some Mardi Gras spokespeople have said this is about including heterosexuals, which begs the question why some heterosexual people are uncomfortable in celebrating gay and lesbian pride. If they are so uncomfortable then we need to make sure we publicly and loudly continue to celebrate our pride.

But if they are comfortable with celebrating it, then why do we need to hide it? They should feel perfectly relaxed in participating in our celebration – as so many of our true friends have through the years.

We should not sacrifice our history or our principles to make others feel more relaxed and included.

If this decision is about the idea that ‘gay and lesbian’ does not speak to our communities’ alphabet soup of identities then how does it help any of us, whatever our identity, to ditch any mention at all of our sexualities? Past arguments about whether bisexuals or trannies are sufficiently included are the same as more recent ones about intersex people. It has never been easy to resolve, but this current decision effectively makes us all invisible, whether marginalised or not.

Having an interminable debate about which letters of the alphabet soup should be included is way better than just handing over our most visible and effective celebration of pride in what we have achieved.

Without the words ‘gay and lesbian’, or any other of the alphabet soup, Mardi Gras will be just like any other city-wide celebration, with no more purpose than the Festival of Sydney.

By GARRETT PRESTAGE

INFO: Garrett Prestage is a Mardi Gras ‘78er and an Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales and La Trobe University.

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