Lessons From Sydney WorldPride – Keep Mardi Gras Vital And Rebuild Oxford Street
By Robert Tait
Inclusive, innovative, inspiring: no one could argue that Sydney WorldPride 2023 was anything less than a brilliant success.
But now that the biodegradable glitter has settled, we need a discussion about SWP’s implications for the future of our community generally, of Mardi Gras, and of Oxford Street.
The complaint I heard most was about sponsorship. People recognised that an event of that scale could not occur without major corporate and government support and kudos to the organisers for snagging it. But such mass-scale pinkwashing still left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths.
One has to wonder, did the sponsors get more out of it than we as a community did? And, heading forward, do we need it at all? What’s wrong with a smaller-scale Mardi Gras with only community groups — they were by far the best part of this year’s Parade anyway.
That bitter taste often came from gin, whiskey and beer, because the alcohol sponsors dominated. A strange choice, given our community is more prone to drug and alcohol issues than the broader community.
Nowhere was that more obvious than the Pride Villages on and near Oxford Street, where large sections of the street were converted to sponsored drinking areas (behind John Howard-style white picket fences!), making access to local Oxford Street traders extremely difficult. Japan has a poor record regarding LGBTQIA+ rights, yet its largest brewing company was embraced as a principal SWP sponsor.
Then there was the bizarre sponsorship of some gay premises by misaligned corporations. Most of the large venues on the strip now have gaming rooms — did a major credit card company realise they were also associating themselves with poker machines (and their social ills) in taking over the identity of an iconic pub? Although, the wittiest sign of SWP had to be at the entrance of the dive bar next door: “We don’t take Amex”.
City Of Sydney
Council and State Government sponsorship were also hypocritical. The City of Sydney has a woeful record in managing Oxford Street (including selling off and then fussing over the rebuild of the north side, meaning it was boarded up for SWP).
And both the Libs and Labor at a State level refuse drug testing at dance parties, preferring the public health idiocy of sniffer dogs.
Sure, we need the cooperation of the government, but do we need to give politicians such unqualified access and endorsement?
Not that the community is perfect in appropriately representing itself either. Really, we have to be so careful of commodifying — indeed pinkwashing — ourselves.
The art and history component of WorldPride was the highlight for me, and one of the most interesting panel discussions was about photographing the community, how it used to be done by a couple of talented photographers, and now — everyone!
This means the whole community, particularly at events, becomes potentially more packaged and performative. But isn’t that at odds with the most intrinsic of our shared values, which is respect for genuine and diverse identity?
It seems to me that ironically the best (or worst) example of such “self-branding” was not from Gen X but the ubiquitous 78-ers — now seemingly out to protest one thing, their own anonymity.
And then there’s the rainbow! Even though it’s evolved (or evolving), do we really need such a dominant symbol for us all? Its spectacular over-use, besides being just plain lazy, feeds into the right-wing narrative that there is something oddly Fascist and cult-like about the queer community.
At what point in the liberation process does a social minority actually decide it is “somewhere over the rainbow”?
WorldPride has given queer Sydney a boost. And has shown what amazing things we are capable of. As we progress our community, keep Mardi Gras vital, and rebuild Oxford Street, it’s important that we not sell ourselves out to the highest bidder.
Not capitulate to corporate or political agendas that undermine our own values. Our future achievements might not be quite so flashy as what we’ve just seen, but even more satisfying.