While the Mardi Gras AGM was a reasonably quiet affair, one of the outcomes is likely to cause loud repercussions.
A motion brought by radical group Pride In Protest to challenge the sponsorship of American pharmaceutical giant, Gilead, was passed as follows at Saturday’s night AGM: “This meeting recommends that the Board move to condemn 2019 Mardi Gras sponsor Gilead for price gouging of PrEP in the US.”
Lead member of Pride In Protest, Charlie Murphy, was voted onto the Mardi Gras Board of Directors and will spearhead a campaign against Gilead and other corporate sponsors that do not align with LGBTQI values, human rights, and environmental issues.
“I think Gilead really spoke to so many people of the membership base, just because of how close it hit to home,” said Murphy.
“The fight against HIV and AIDS has been so important in our community and has played such a big part in Mardi Gras. The fact that Mardi Gras chose to partner with a company who’s actively working against that really upset, not just our supporters, but the membership at large.”
According the Murphy, the motion was hard fought and ultimately decided by only 10 votes.
A second motion by Pride In Protest was also passed almost unanimously.
“Pretty much everyone in the room voted for the ethics charter to be set up with community consultation,” said Murphy.
Currently, Mardi Gras’ only criteria for sponsorship considers a company’s workplace culture, not its broader community impact.
Gilead manufactures and sells the HIV preventative drug, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) under the brand names Truvada and Discovy. Thanks to Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the drug sells here for around $8-$40 per monthly supply in this country.
In the US, however, it retails at $1760 per month—way out of reach of anyone who doesn’t have high premium private health care, and still steep even then. Gilead has been accused of abusing its patent rights by price gouging. What’s more, the US government is now bringing legal action against Gilead, alleging that it does not have a patent license for PrEP.
A complaint filed by the US government’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asserts that it was in fact research and development by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that resulted in the creation of PrEP—research that was funded by US taxpayers.
During a congressional hearing earlier this year, House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez directly questioned Gilead CEO, Daniel O’Day on the disparity between what Americans pay and what Australians pay for PrEP. Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings asked at the top of the hearing:
“How can Gilead do this? How can our system allow a company to take a drug treatment that was developed with taxpayer funds and abuse its monopoly to charge such astronomical prices?”
Whether Gilead has a future in Mardi Gras collateral is hard to say, says Murphy:
“I think it would be very upsetting if the board did not take on the desire of the membership.”
Pride In Protest describe themselves as left wing, progressive, intersectional, and Murphy feels that her place on the Mardi Gras board introduces better diversity and representation.
“The growth of the movement between last year and this year just shows how much enthusiasm there is behind it in terms of having this style of politics and management in Mardi Gras.”
Mardi Gras was contacted for comment and provided this official statement: “At our AGM this Saturday, our members were given the opportunity to vote on motions put forward by other members. Before the vote, the Board put forward its current position on each of the motions.
“Although some motions may have been voted in by members, as per Constitution, the final decision as to whether the organisation adopts these motions sits with the Board.
“When considering the motions, as with all decisions, the Board will be guided by the objectives as outlined in its Constitution and it’s values as outlined in the Strategic Plan. The final outcome will be presented to members in due course.”