The ALSO Foundation has defended the name of its Midsumma fundraising party — Boat People — after sections of the community have labelled the theme “tacky” and “bad taste”.

A number of Facebook users — including several former ALSO board members — have written on the event’s Facebook page expressing disappointment with ALSO’s choice of marketing for the event, claiming it’s offensive.

Former board member Natasha Richardson wrote to the Star Observer saying she was “surprised and horrified” the party was using a reference to ‘boat people’, so close to the Christmas Island tragedy in which almost 50 asylum seekers perished.

“There’s no question that the intent of the fundraiser is wonderful. The timing is simply shocking though,” Richardson said.

ALSO has defended the party’s ‘un-PC’ theme saying the marketing was adopted before the Christmas Island tragedy unfolded and money raised from the event will go to the Australian GLBTI Multicultural Council (AGMC) to work with gay and lesbian refugees.

ALSO Foundation CEO Crusader Hillis told the Star Observer he had expected some backlash, but said the idea was to show that every non-Indigenous Australian is a ‘boat person’.

“We were not particularly surprised by the response on Facebook, as we knew the language chosen was provocative, but we maintain that the phrase ‘boat people’ has been the main term used in mainstream media, without comment or protest by the most part,” he said.

“We were surprised that people who took offence to the terminology could not also understand that this was the context in which we were using this language.”

Hillis also denied that critical comments had been censored on the Facebook site, but conceded the organisation had learned a lesson in using social media.

“We were not trying to censor anyone’s comments, but made a decision, in retrospect wrongly, to take down all comments and make the event comment-free,” he said.

“We did this so that a small number of passionate opponents didn’t outweigh the largely positive comments we were receiving.”

Hillis said as soon as the move was perceived as being overly heavy-handed, the page was re-opened for comments.

AGMC chair Alyena Mohummadally said despite some opposition, the AGMC is still behind the ALSO event.

“AGMC [was] aware that the event was being promoted with ‘bad taste’ connotations as we had been informed by ALSO … how it would be marketed. Our understanding is that this is a satire, a send-up of attitudes to refugees and asylum seekers.”

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