Let The Sunlight In


pic: nachans

We need transparency, accountability and engagement to be more than just buzzwords

How did our community organisations get so out of touch with the community they’re meant to serve? Because they are no longer really ours.

Mardi Gras is more than just a parade. It’s a citywide carnival of 80 events over two weeks. It’s the second largest event in the state, bringing in around $30m a year. It’s an important pinkwashing machine for large corporations, and organisations with less than stellar records in dealing with the LGBTI community, like NSW Police.

That means that city and state governments have a huge interest in keeping it alive and maximizing the tourist draw. So they very kindly return us a small percentage of the money we bring (compared to what we can raise among ourselves it’s huge), and then they have us in the net. Remember, their interests do not always coincide with ours.

NSW Police don’t just march in their smart sexy uniforms. They also snoop around vetoing any costumes they deem too revealing. They patrol dance parties with sniffer dogs to intimidate revelers. They say they’re looking for drugs, but we know the dogs are pretty useless at the job. They lurk in their riot gear after the parade, intimidating and occasionally thumping the crowds into acceptable behavior.


Kate Ausburn

Compared to earlier years, Mardi Gras is now a controlled, sanitized event. It may be a big beast, but it’s a (mostly) tame one. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and it isn’t us.

What was once a weapon with which to wittily slap politicians across the face, has become a party we invite them to attend. Chill. Relax. Forget all that nasty politics, can’t you? Come with us to slightly risqué la-la land, where you might spot a bare boob or buttock. There’s even gay cash machines, how cute!

He who pays the piper calls the tune. Governments and businesses now largely control Mardi Gras, because they put up the most money. It’s a soft control: they hand over the dollars, and we obligingly censor ourselves so as not to lose all that lovely moolah, and of course, prestige.

It’s not good enough. It’s better than it was, but it’s a lot less than we deserve. [continues after the letter from AME].


Hi [redacted],

The below statement has the unanimous support of the Board of Australian Marriage Equality:

Australian Marriage Equality is grateful for the ongoing support provided by Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

The entire festival, and particularly the parade, provides supporters of marriage equality with a unique opportunity to engage with local and visiting LGBTIQ communities, community leaders, and politicians. The parade is a momentous event that recognises our rich history and progress towards equality.

We know there is growing frustration in the community that our country does not have marriage equality yet. We hope that the 2017 parade will allow us to demonstrate the strong support that exists for marriage equality and provide a call to action for all our political leaders to work together to achieve the reform in the current parliamentary term.

Mardi Gras has helped us advance marriage equality through being an inclusive and welcoming event. We believe one of Mardi Gras’ strengths is the growing number of politicians who participate and watch the parade, providing AME and other campaigners an opportunity to directly engage with decision makers on growing and diverse support for marriage equality.

We hope leaders from across the political spectrum, including the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition feel welcome to attend and join the hundreds of thousands of marriage equality supporters on parade day who look forward to the festivities and eagerly await the chance to celebrate achieving marriage equality together.

Many thanks, Alex

[continued from above]

Let’s review.

  • We still can’t marry.
  • We have some of the highest rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide.
  • Kids can be thrown out of schools and teachers out of jobs just for being gay – but only in some schools, so that’s OK, isn’t it?
  • Anti-discrimination law is feeble and hard to use.
  • Some people are clamouring for the right to be more discriminatory, not less.
  • Members of the governing coalition have slandered and almost destroyed our efforts to protect our vulnerable young people: and
  • Our Prime Minister has said and done nothing to stop them.

The PM at the party


Lucy & Malcolm Turnbull: pic by Eva Rinaldi

Which brings me to a skidding halt at this year’s laughably trivial Mardi Gras controversy. The little spat over whether or not to once again send an invite to the Prime Minister. Which he doesn’t use anyway, preferring to hobknob with the likes of the rich Liberal queens who bankroll Australian Marriage Equality.

I say trivial, yet it’s a symptom of something incredibly important, affecting all our LGBTI organisations.

A generational change is under way. Many of the older crew, perhaps somewhat battle-weary after everything we have had to endure, are happy to embrace the support of big corporations, banks, policemen and rich businessmen.

As one “community leader” gleefully said to me a few years back, “Isn’t this nice? Isn’t this better? Being inside the tent at last, instead of outside?”

The Outsiders

Perhaps, I thought, but what about the people you have left outside? Some of the new generation have done very well out of the advances we won for them. But many others have been left out. The young ones who disrupted Pride March. The young ones who are outraged at Midsumma linking arms and tangoing into the sunset with News Corp. The ones who don’t want Malcolm Turnbull at Mardi Gras.

“But, but, but,” cry the insiders, “He’s nice, he supports us, he’s all for gay marriage.”

But, but, but, I reply, don’t look at what he says, look at what he does.

  • He sold us out to grab the top job, landing us with the plebiscite.
  • He failed to mount a robust defence of Safe Schools.
  • He stood aside and did nothing while George Christensen and others trashed the program.
  • He failed to call out their lies, smears, and blatantly discriminatory attacks.
  • He pleaded for us to put our collective head in the noose of a toxic plebiscite, while insisting it wouldn’t hurt a bit.

That Prime Minister? You want him in your house? Really?


Let me reframe this: you say you want him there as a symbol of the inclusiveness of our community. I get that. But what about all the other people you are excluding by doing so? Who would rather spit in his face than shake his hand for all the things he has done to us since he became PM, and for which you, adding insult to injury, keep making excuses? Instead of holding him to account? Do you not understand how angry that makes some of us?

A similar but far more serious situation has arisen at Midsumma, where the organization has slipped into bed with the propaganda arm of Homophobia Inc., News Corp.

Let the Sunlight In

If these horrible unnecessary and divisive events are not to happen again – and they must not – all our LGBTI organisations must stop making deals behind the community’s back. They must become much more transparent and accountable. Secrecy and confidentiality are the enemy of good governance.

In the internet era, monthly board and main subcommittee meetings of our major representative organisations and others could easily be streamed live for anyone to observe, and provide feedback.

  • Mardi Gras
  • ACON
  • GLRL
  • Midsumma
  • VAC
  • Joy 94.9
  • VGRL
  • National Health Alliance
  • CAAH

Online forums could easily be convened for members to discuss potentially contentious issues – something that would probably entice many more people to get involved, join and support. We need an end to cozy backroom deals and shocking revelations.

Time for change.

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)