Mardi Gras Elders At War

Eva Rinaldi

Open warfare has broken out between the original Mardi Gras marchers of 1978, and the current Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG)

First, some background. The 78ers are themselves split between a new incorporated association called First Mardi Gras (FMG), which includes Di Minnis, Robyn Kennedy (who is also on the SGLMG Board), Ken Davis and others, and the original 78ers collective, including Peter Murphy, Gary Shleimann, Titi Charday and others.

Who can call themselves ‘Mardi Gras’?

The battle over the name is between FMG and SGLMG, with SGLMG threatening legal action in writing to force FMG to drop the use of the words ‘Mardi Gras’. FMG are holding special AGM to consider this demand. They are encouraging people to send messages to SGLMG, saying they are disrespecting the 78ers.  At the same time, a member of the 78ers collective has taken out the IP over the use of the term 78er and is refusing to relinquish it.

Re-enacting 1978

The stirrer also understands that a proposal was put forward by 78ers collective to have a re-enactment of the original Mardi Gras parade as part of the upcoming 40th anniversary celebrations, incorporating original chants and banners. This was refused by SGLMG, and we believe also not supported by FMG. FMG Secretary and SGLMG Board member Robyn Kennedy told the stirrer:

78ers Collective and First Mardi Gras are two separate groups for 78ers. FMG is an incorporated association with 70 members. Collective are a small group without a membership structure. The Collective proposed a reenactment of police violence which was not supported by other 78ers or SGLMG creative team. There is a separate issue of proposed slogan “Stop police attacks on gays, women and blacks” on a placard for the Parade. This has also been proposed by the Collective. There are various arguments for and against use of the slogan. The issue is under discussion.

It would be better if the two 78er groups could come together behind one proposal for a commemorative event at the 40th Parade, most fittingly a re-enactment of the events of the original march. But while the 78ers are both split and at loggerheads with the SGLM main board, there seems little hope of that.

The stirrer has contacted parties on all sides and will bring you any further responses received. Here is the text of the email from FMG to SGLMG.

First Mardi Gras Incorporated

ABN 23 393 628 948

PO Box 1029 Glebe 2037

21st September 2017

Board of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Mardi 94 Oxford St Darlinghurst NSW 2010

Dear Board members

I am writing on behalf of First Mardi Gras Inc in response to the letter signed by Damien Hodgkinson dated 31 August 2017 in which SGLMG objects to the use of the words “Mardi Gras” in the name of our organisation.

As you know, we are a non-profit organisation established for the benefit of 78ers, those who took part in the first Sydney Mardi Gras in 1978.

Our organisation has been keen to work constructively with SGLMG to plan the celebration of the 40th anniversary of this historic event, and we continue to believe that it is important that the planning for this celebration involves and caters for 78ers.

Those who took part in the 1978 march and the events which followed should be acknowledged for their role in early gay and lesbian political change in Australia.

We are very disappointed that SGLMG has not responded to previous requests to meet to enable discussion about the involvement of 78ers in planning for the 2018 event. We were also very surprised that SGLMG would not happily agree to the use of “Mardi Gras” in the name of an organisation of 78ers wanting to celebrate an event of such political significance in Australian gay and lesbian history.

Your objection is especially perplexing given that we are not using the words Mardi Gras for any commercial purpose, not trading in any goods or services, and our name could not be confused with yours.

Your name includes the words “Sydney Gay and Lesbian” in addition to the words “Mardi Gras”. In our name, the words “Mardi Gras” are qualified and preceded by the word “First”, which distinguishes our name from yours and makes it clear that the Mardi Gras our organisation is referring to is not the current Mardi Gras, but the 1978 Mardi Gras.

Your letter objecting to our name, and the suggestion that SGLMG may take legal action against our organisation, appears to us to be contrary to every principle that the Mardi Gras should stand for.

Notwithstanding this range of concerns, First Mardi Gras Inc. is committed to contributing to the 2018 Festival and celebrating the 40th anniversary in a positive spirit. We do not wish to lose focus from these objectives by being drawn into a needless dispute. We therefore advise, while reserving our rights, in-principle agreement to take steps to select another name for our organisation, without the words “Mardi Gras”.

A change of name will require and be subject to approval by members of the association at a special general meeting. Our Page 6 of 6 Constitution requires 21 days-notice of a special general meeting.

A change of name would also need to be approved by Fair Trading. We will advise the outcome of the special general meeting and the new name once approved by Fair Trading. Please note, that until such time as the new name is approved by Fair Trading, we are legally required to use our existing incorporated name, First Mardi Gras Inc.

Finally, we want to be clear that we are agreeing to this change in the interests of goodwill and for the benefit of our respective organisations, despite our view that we are legally entitled to continue to use our existing name. It is a source of regret that SGLMG objects to our organisation’s name, and we ask that the issue be raised with your incoming Board following the Board election. We would be happy to meet to discuss the matter further.

Yours sincerely

Robyn Kennedy

Secretary/Treasurer (on behalf of First Mardi Gras Inc Committee)


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)