Days after the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, its board has found itself embroiled in controversy. Two members of Pride In Protest  have been stood down from their positions as Mardi Gras board directors, including the only openly trans woman and sex worker on the board.

Charlie Murphy and Alex Bouchet from Pride in Protest were temporarily stood down following a meeting of the board on March 4, 2021. Pride In Protest alleged that the duo were suspended as punishment for their role in organising the protest march on Oxford Street on March 6. The Mardi Gras board denied that the protest march was the reason for its decision. 

According to Alex, he and Charlie were surprised to receive correspondence asking them to explain why they should not be permanently removed from the Mardi Gras board.

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Alex and Charlie alleged that the five others members on the board of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – Jesse Matheson, Mel Schwerdt, Louis Hudson, Rob Smith, and Giovanni Campolo-Arcidiaco – voted “in a secret meeting” to remove them. 

 Mardi Gras Protest March On Oxford Street

“Charlie and Alex had no notice, or right of reply before this decision was made… By choosing to punish Charlie and Alex for their participation in this march, they are punishing them for supporting the liberation of oppressed groups and fighting for the right to protest,” Pride In Protest said in a statement. 

The protest march was held on the same day as the official Mardi Gras parade, which was shifted from its Oxford Street route to a ticketed event at the Sydney Cricket Ground to comply with COVIDSafe regulations this year. The Mardi Gras parade itself had seen four members of the political satirist group Department of Homo Affairs (DoHA) staging a protest against the police presence at the event. 

The protest march had demanded scrapping of transphobic religious freedoms bills, ending mandatory detention, forced deportations, Black deaths in custody, and the over policing of Black communities, fully decriminalising sex work, and decriminalising and legalising drug use.

‘Mardi Gras Board Decision Unconstitutional’

Alex Bouchet

“I am a trans woman and out sex worker, who alongside Scarlet Alliance called for national decriminalisation of sex work this Mardi Gras, as well as fought against Mark Latham’s horrendous transphobic bill. I shouldn’t have to explain to five members of the Board why it’s morally correct to fight for the rights of my communities, my sisters and siblings. Rather, those Board Members should openly explain to the community and the membership exactly what it is about that they find so reprehensible.” Charlie Murphy said in a response to the Board.

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Alex in his letter to the Board said that the stand down was unconstitutional. “As per 10.13 of the constitution it is required that there be at least 48 hours notice of the motion being put, which neither myself nor Charlie received. We were informed of the decision of a secret meeting after the fact, and not only given no notice but given no right to argue against the motion,” Alex said, adding that the board decision was politically motivated.

‘Not Stood Down For Protest March’

In a statement, the board co-chairs confirmed that Charlie and Alex were stood down temporarily from their positions as board directors for 28 days. 

“This followed months of discussions with both Charlie Murphy and Alex Bouchet. Reports (that) they were stood down because of the Mardi Gras protest march are inaccurate,” the co-chairs said. 

 The statement further said that the board is expected to meet shortly to discuss its next steps and said they wished to “manage this situation confidentially, respecting the privacy for all those involved.”

“The Board will continue to work constructively with Charlie Murphy and Alex Bouchet, as well as offer and provide them support during this time. While we understand this has caused some concern in the community, please know that as a Board, we will always act in the best interests of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras and continue to steer the organisation in the direction that you set for us,” the statement added. 

Pride in Protest pointed out that it was the members of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras that had democratically elected the board directors, including Alexand Charlie. “We call on the SGLMG board to immediately institute open meetings and end the secret closed door meetings which subvert the democracy of the organisation and transparency to the membership,” the organisation said.

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