Carnival Dropouts: Midsumma CEO Responds

pic: Andrew Reitemeyer

All we would ask is that people don’t disrupt the event, and to keep in mind its effects on other people’s rights to treat that event as a celebratory event and not to stall the event or try and stop it: Karen Bryant

Following the statements from Vic Leather, Rainbow Families and Dykes on Bikes, I reached out to CEO of Midsumma, Karen Bryant, for her reactions. I wrote asking for an interview:

Vic Leather, Rainbow Families and Dykes on Bikes have now confirmed they won’t be donating to Midsumma this year, or taking part in Carnival, because of the News Corp sponsorship.

They do, however, intend marching in Pride, and I understand have reserved the right to display their disagreement with the News Corp sponsorship during the event.

What is Midsumma’s reaction to a) their withdrawal and b) their proposed expression of dissent?

Karen and I then had a chat on the phone: what follows is lightly edited to enhance clarity and reduce repetition. I then spoke with Rainbow Families.

KAREN: I’m only going to comment on Rainbow Families, because they’re the only ones that actually approached us, and I had quite a long conversation with them, and from my understanding, what you’ve written in your email isn’t actually correct.

Rainbow Families rang us to let us know they were quite concerned and that they were going to put out a media release. When we discussed it with them and talked about not accepting the advertising, they contacted us again, and said that we had done everything that they wanted, they were happy with that response, that they would not be pulling out of anything.

They wouldn’t be having a stall at Carnival, but that had nothing to do with that: it being school holidays they didn’t have the staff to do the stall that day, but that was not in any way because of the News Corp sponsorship [see conversation with Rainbow Families, below, for a rather different view]. Then went on to do radio on Joy that Saturday, and when they were asked whether we had done enough, they said they did think that we had done enough.

We really have tried to meet that, we had a really good dialogue with them, and the two conversations I had with them, they understand the position and were very happy with the final decision that we made.

DOUG: You haven’t had a conversation with either Vic Leather or Dykes on Bikes?

KAREN: No, they haven’t contacted us. Everybody that has contacted us – of course we’ve reached out to quite a few people, had conversations – but neither of them have approached us. When I saw your email yesterday I did send Jo an email Dykes on Bikes asking to catch up, but I haven’t heard back. As you can understand, we’re very busy, literally trying to get everything done by the end of today, with all the suppliers closing for the holidays, but I have reached out to DOBM for a chat, and with everyone who’s contacted us we’ve done that, we’re very open to those dialogues.

The other thing in your email was about people having the right to show their disagreement with News Corp at Pride March. I have had one conversation with a completely separate group who raised that with me, and my position with them was absolutely, we have no problem with people exercising any rights, just look at the history of what Pride Marches are, all we would ask is that people don’t disrupt the event, and to keep in mind its effects on other people’s rights to treat that event as a celebratory event and not to stall the event or try and stop it.

But if they’re willing to do it as part of the Pride March then we have no problem with it at all, and that was viewed very positively by the group I spoke to.

DOUG: Dykes on Bikes mentioned something about Midsumma not being very interested in the fundraising that they were proposing to do for you, and I understand a similar situation arose with regard to the DT’s Golden Stiletto Rally and the GH Pride March After Party. They offered to fundraise for you but you weren’t very interested.

KAREN: I don’t think that’s the case. A number of groups who contacted us about wanting to be official events after registration closed, which obviously we couldn’t accept because that’s unfair to other people who have registered or paid the registration fees, having gone to print by that point.

Two of those came up with alternate suggestions. For example, there’s one group, I’ve given them roving rights at Carnival, they’re going to be raising funds for our futures program, which is the program for young artists next year, and we’ve got another group that’s doing the same.

 So we’ve got a couple of groups who contacted me specifically about fundraising, and we came up with alternate ways they could do it because we couldn’t have them as an official event because registrations had closed.

I will be reaching out to Dykes on Bikes, because we certainly are very interested in groups fundraising. I’ve also made a note of all those groups and next year I can reach out to them before closing and say, look, you haven’t registered yet, are you interested?

But we do want to work with everyone and everyone.

I have to say, having come on board in late July I haven’t had the amount of time – there’s only 7 days a week! – to work with a lot of groups the way I would like to, the way that I normally would when I had twelve months lead-in time. That’s something that will certainly be addressed next year.

I then spoke with Felicity Marlowe of Rainbow Families: I asked her whether a lack of staff was the only reason they wouldn’t be at Carnival.

FELICITY: Rainbow Families initially had a meeting at which we decided not to have a stall at Carnival because of the News Corp business, whereupon everyone went away and made alternative arrangements for that day

I made it clear when I rang them that we would not be taking the stall because of the News Corp sponsorship. Then they resolved the situation the next day. I think our intention helped their decision along.

Regardless of the change, we’re not holding a stall at Carnival. It’s always a bit difficult to get people to staff the stall in the middle of the school holidays anyway, so people were quite relieved, made plans to go away, and so forth. Instead we will build up our presence at Pride March, and put our resources into the Drummond St Family Picnic on February 12th.

We welcome Midsumma’s willingness to engage with community groups in future, and look forward to a dialogue with them next year about making the Carnival a more family-friendly event.

And one last word from me: I look forward to them making Carnival and Pride much more welcoming for senior members of the community, too!

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)