Ejected 78er Brings Her Own Hot Pink Fluffy Handcuffs To Sydney Mardi Gras
By Barbara Karpinski
In 2023, it was heart-warming to be back on the 78er bus and see the Parade down to the last floats with their energetic dancers keeping up a show for the thousands who turned out.
The Covid years are now but a blur, and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, is back in its traditional home of Oxford Street.
After my ejection last year for “offensive posters” by NSW Police, following anonymous reports to the police made by attendees in the VIP stands complaining about my “offensive” peace posters, I was this year no longer standing alone in the stands with my handmade anti-Putin peace signs. I was excited to see a big sign on the 78er bus, “Russia out of Ukraine”.
Protests, Not Arrests
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade last Saturday marked a year and a day after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
When I was ejected from the Sydney Cricket Ground during the Mardi Gras Parade in March 2022, for my protest posters, it was Day 9 of the war.
Last weekend across Europe, there were huge rallies in support of democracy, independence and freedom for Ukraine. In Red Square Moscow, people were arrested for having small hand-drawn posters of protest so I wanted to keep my protest simple, in sympathy with the grassroots protest movement around the world.
No bling-bling big business float for me. The cardboard for the posters cost me less than five dollars and my handcuffs were already in my kinky queer wardrobe. I stood in front of the 78er bus in “Pussy Riot” inspired poses of punk protest art, holding posters that were not confiscated by NSW police this year. My posters said “78er. PROTESTS, NOT ARRESTS”.
The Legacy Of 1978
The legacy of 1978 has always been about human rights. Let’s keep it that way. Though TikTok, Google and Optus showcased their cashed-up commercial floats, they were upstaged by community floats with awesome slogans and political pride.
Community floats included “Queer Whore Power”, Trans Pride, Bi-Plus Network, Pansexual Pride and PUPS, together with “People Living with HIV” with their always powerful and prescient messages of “Still Here” in black and white, emblazoned on T-shirts. We must never forget the “Act Up’ and the AIDS pioneers and it was wonderful to see a float devoted to Roberta Perkins, a pioneering sex worker and trans activist.
Not deterred by last year’s ejection, I made new posters and came prepared for arrest. I brought my own hot pink fluffy disability-friendly handcuffs just in case. But the police seemed to have their hands full with ejecting Senator Lidia Thorpe for protesting police brutality.
My own femme-fluffy handcuffs symbolised my fight for softer policing, more money for social services and trauma-informed policies when dealing with marginalised “lawbreakers”.
I Witnessed Diverse People At The Original Protests
Though I appreciated the swift apologies last year from NSW police and Mardi Gras, my own protest this year came with a serious suggestion that the police trade their tasers and those nasty metal cuffs, for empathy and not arrests for the marginalised.
I was upset to hear of Danny Lim’s arrest for his own poster in 2022. The legacy of 78 to me stands for an inclusive community. Better mental health and disability services, not more law and order, is what we need for a healthy and inclusive community.
Though there are many versions of who was there in 1978 and who started Mardi Gras, I want to reiterate that as a teenage jailbird, who spent a night in Central cells with others and was charged with failing to obey a lawful direction, I witnessed diverse people at the original protests.
There were indigenous people, trans people, bisexual and pansexual people and young people like myself, street-based sex workers including rent boys, women and trans sex workers, gays, lesbians and many more in the motley crew that fought back against the police. The criminal charges were later dropped, because the police lied in court and surrounded us, giving us no chance to escape.
Many 78ers including myself live with the life-long impact of “police-induced trauma”. Though blue seems to be the preferred colour of NSW police, my pink fluffy handcuffs were my symbol of a plea for softer more sensitive policing.
I still believe there need to be more better policies when dealing with the most vulnerable in our community – queer sex workers, drug users, GLBTIQ plus youth on the streets, and those with lived experience of mental distress.
Since the apologies given by Mardi Gras last year, I have met with Albert Kruger, Mardi Gras CEO, to help improve safety and inclusiveness for future years. My experience this year leads me to believe there still needs to be more disability support.
Steve Warren, who was on the 2016 NSW Parliamentary apology with myself and others said that as a 78er and wheelchair user, he was upset that he could not find transport out of Fair Day to attend SWP events.
After the parade of 2o1 floats finished, I joined a small gang of some 78ers with sticks and walking frames fighting their way to the train station through the crowds on the rough and bumpy jaunt down Albion Street. Though there was a bus trafficking people up and down to Central, there were logistical issues of getting on it, especially for those less able, and special services needed to be provided for people with limited mobility.
Though I had a white plastic chair in Sideshow seating this year along with the other 78ers, and it sure beats wandering around alone in the dark after the ejection last year in search of safety and something to eat, more can be done to improve accessibility.
I asked 78er, Mark Gillespie, who spoke at the Pride in Protest Rally what he thought: “Yes change can be a long time coming, and love alone cannot defeat toxic ideologies or war machines. But with the right to protest and knowledge on our side and by building a more powerful international queer solidarity and enlisting allies we know change is going to come.”
Amber Loomis, an organiser with Sydney Bi Plus Network remarked: “Pride started as a protest, and it is our right to continue the legacy of those before us – to protest against the violence and oppression that continues to harm First Nations communities, sex workers, trans folks, refugees, and asylum seekers, and more”.
The 78ers have recently launched the Sydney World Pride 78er “Declaration of Human Rights” which celebrates our diverse legacy.
Mardi Gras was always and will be a celebration of human rights. After a worldwide first screening premiere launch of Flipside of Flamboyance by Documentary Australia at Red Rattler in Marrickville as part of Pride Amplified, 78ers Wendy Bacon, Mark Gillespie, and Peter Murphy provoked a robust discussion to a small but appreciative crowd about the legacy of 1978 and the emergence of the Pride in Protest Movement.
Peter Murphy was brutally attacked in 1978 and no one has ever been tried for his assault. The film documents the apologies, the legacy, and the untold inconvenient truths. I am raising funds for the completion and distribution of this film that gives an insider insight into the 78er legends – defiant, disabled and not dead yet.
Filmmaker Barbara Karpinski is one of the original Mardi Gras ‘78ers. Karpinski who is queer and bi-sexual, was still a schoolgirl when she was arrested in the first Mardi Gras on June 24, 1978.