My first ever Mardi Gras I vomited blue. As a 16 year old binge drinking whilst watching the Mardi Gras I was blissfully naive of the political complexities of the parade. All I saw was the glamour and the sex. A part of me still holds that dream, even when the reality is so starkly contrasted. The Sydney Mardi Gras originally started (in June not sunny February) as a riot against police brutality. As a bunch of queers wanting to fuck when and how they wanted. One cannot help but wonder how it has become the capitalistic, apolitical, sexless event that it is today. Why do the police march in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras?
Recently, the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras changed its name to the Sydney Mardi Gras. The committee stated that this was a step towards inclusivity. This is not a step towards inclusivity, but a step towards normalization and thus exclusion. This is further evidenced in their current logo and promotional material. The logo is two love hearts, turned on their sides intertwining, in what is unmistakably a reference to “marriage equality” and the subsequent homonormalisation and neo-liberalisation of mainstream gay rights agendas.
The promotional material is focused on “celebrating our generations of love”. Loving is a radical concept, especially when it involves people of the same gender or non-binary genders. However, within the Mardi Gras advertising “love” only serves to solidify the allusions to marriage equality and homonormativity. Especially when it is coupled with images and videos that show predominately white people who are able-bodied and overwhelmingly cisgendered, dancing and occasionally kissing. There is absolutely no mention of sex let alone anal, eating pussy, fisting, deep throat or an of the things that the “bad” queers get up to. It seems that the most sexual acts gays and lesbians do is kiss, in public.
This homonormalising of the Mardi Gras has been occurring for many years. In 2010 the then New Mardi Gras board made many controversial decisions. They allowed huge corporate sponsorship, with such companies as the bank ANZ having a float. This was met with much dissent as Mardi Gras started as a protest against the second-class citizen treatment of gay, lesbian and transgender people in Australia. Many asked how an ANZ float was in any way political. However, more shocking was their refusal to allow the Animal Liberation float. The justification was that they were “not queer enough”. This is even more insidious if we consider that in 2008 the Mardi Gras was led by two men named Craig and Shane, not because they were famous or gay icons but because one night they walked down Crown Street, right next to where Mardi Gras takes it’s historic path, and were almost beaten to death. They subsequently spent almost a year in hospital. The assailants beat them simply because they were gay. When they reported this to the police they were met with hostility and. Yet, in 2009 the police were allowed to have a float in the parade.
The Animal Liberation float was acting within the concept of “our freedom, your freedom, their freedom”. Animal Liberation questions the torture, maiming and mutilation of nonhuman animals. Mardi Gras began with the same intention for human animals but has now become a mainstream, corporatized homonormative event.
Leading up to the 2013 parade there was an onslaught of advertising in much of the gay press. One particularly telling advertisement was from the ANZ bank. In the center it has three Australian coins, with the side that has an image of the queen facing up. The heading states “We love all types of queens.” This play on money, camp accent and pride is both overt capitalistic advertising and a loss to every queer person struggling against the monetary system. The byline states “Embracing the diversity of our customers and staff. ANZ: The support team for Sydney Mardi Gras 2013”. ANZ is well known for investing money in wars, such as the war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as having large investments in environmentally destructive industries such as coal, to name just two things. But hey, who cares about that, they are gay friendly. This is the most obvious pink washing ever.
Perhaps most disturbing is the words at the bottom of the advertisement, almost missed, that state “We live in your world”. The truth to this statement is impossible to ignore. If you look at the Mardi Gras and the corresponding mainstream gay community you will see that corporatization is in fact the reality of the community, and the Mardi Gras only serves to further that. That for the mainstream gay community their world is in fact represented in ANZ, contrasted against the rest of the community who cannot access this privilege.
This picture of entwined hearts and marching police was shattered when footage of police brutality surfaced after the 2013 Mardi Gras Parade The police brutality is overt and serves to remind us that there is “No Pride in a Police State” and in fact that this brutality occurs all across Australia (and the world) on a daily basis to people from all different backgrounds. This was not an isolated event of some homophobia. This is a small representation of what occurs everywhere to marginalized and oppressed communities.
The gay and lesbian community responded with a large protest. Following this was a community forum held by the Mardi Gras committee titled “Sydney Mardi Gras Policing Community Forum”. Before the forum the Mardi Gras committee stated on their website that the forum is to discuss what occurred with the Sydney MP Alex Greenwhich, two police representatives and various gaystream groups. Most worrying was their claim that “People attending the forum will also be able to offer ideas about how policing practices can be enhanced to the benefit of both Sydney Mardi Gras patrons and police.” (Mardi Gras website) This case of police brutality has led to the conclusion that the queer community needs enhanced policing. All that has come out of the forum so far is a media release in which they have stated that they are writing up a report that will “inform further discussions between senior police and LGBTQI community representatives about immediate and longer-term strategies to improve policing practices at Mardi Gras.” Improve them, not remove them.
The Assistant commissioner Murdoch has stated that “he does not believe the incident will permanently damage relationships with the community.” (ABC) He also states that the “relationship locally with the gay and lesbian community is first-class,” and that the officer who is filmed abusing the young man is from the western suburbs where “Policing … is a different kettle of fish, and we need to take account of that.” The western suburbs of Sydney is an area usually depicted in the media as violent, with gang wars, drug crimes etc, because it is predominately people from backgrounds that are not Anglo, particularly people of Arab decent. Here, Murdoch is actually reducing the incident to a single officer, rather then institutional state violence. He then uses this officer’s station to racially vilify people who live in the area where he is stationed and thus show that if people of colour did not exist in these areas there would be no homophobic police violence. Here, he has taken the emphasis off the homophobia and made it an issue of badly behaved people in the western suburbs. Instead of seeing the larger picture of state violence and police repression, good gays and lesbians from inner city suburbs who are white and hold respectable jobs, and kiss in public, are assured that they will not be targeted by police. That in fact, more policing is needed to ensure that western suburbs people of color do not encroach on gentrified inner city Sydney.
This culminates in a bleak picture of neo-liberal rhetoric used to create gay events that are viewed as non-sexual and non-gay, and when the true nature of homophobia and police violence are revealed, we are sidelined by socialized racism in order to ignore the reality of state based violence, on a large scale.
A protestor held a sign saying “Cops Don’t Give A Fuck About Queers”. So again we must wonder, why do they march in the Mardi Gras parade?