USE YOUR VOICE this Mardi Gras AGM.

Over the past decade I’ve lost count of the number of times people say Mardi Gras isn’t relevant for them or how it doesn’t represent them. At times the noise has been deafening however here is your chance to have a say in changing that. This AGM is the first chance in three years where you can elect a board with community and volunteer engagement, strategic and cultural shift intention and financial sustainability values. You cannot complain to me, or anyone else, if you do not have a voice in securing this outcome, and having a voice is easy. Join the organisation by this Friday 26th July at 5pm for only $15 and vote. As a member you can then hold YOUR elected board accountable for any decision that they make but more importantly you can have a say in important decisions.

If you can’t attend the AGM assign your proxy to a friend who can, or to one of the candidates who believe in the values above. Their candidate statements are here: http://www.mardigras.org.au/agm-director-candidate-statements/ – note those who have signed the code of conduct. A code based on respect, equality and fairness, also don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions of candidates as to their behaviors in the past either as volunteers or directors. I also point you to public record of Page 27 of the 2010 Annual Report. YOUR board should hold the utmost integrity.

I will be attending the AGM and I’m happy to hold anyone’s proxy’s and I’m also happy to chat to anyone about the candidates running and my take on how things can change with the right people. There are some fabulous returning directors and some fantastic new ones in the mix. Together we could see the old girl soar!

Please share this message and link and get the word out far and wide, and please consider USING YOUR VOICE by joining the organisation and VOTING at this year’s Mardi Gras AGM.

Membership link here: http://www.mardigras.org.au/membership/new-members/

Feel free to contact me if you need any information or a hand or just want to have a say.

It’s time to stop saying something and start DOING something.

Image

Photo Credit: Hayden Brotchie.

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Jodie Foster and Toaster Ovens

Jodie Foster at the Golden Globes I remember seeing a Cosmo when I was about 16, where two models (whom I now realise were straight) had their arms entwined with each other. I didn’t understand the reaction that was spurned in me, it was all very confusing, but I do remember keeping those pages of that magazine as “reference” material.

When I was a baby Dyke just coming out at 24, I was hanging out at Kinsela’s with my jaw dropping at DJ Kate Monroe, the sassy blonde American, and not knowing what to do. (Now Kate and I laugh at that, but I remember her being a huge influence in my awakening.)

By my late 20’s Martina was out, Ellen had her “Puppy” episode and everyone was collecting Toaster oven’s. Melissa Etheridge hit the scene, Desert hearts hit the cinema and the Indigo Girls became the new “IT” girls.

Rumour on the street was that Jodie Foster was gay and we all flocked to her movies and looked for information (pre-internet days) on whether she was or wasn’t –  those in the know swore it to be true.

I’m pleased she held true to herself. Here is to another 47 years Jodie. You were seen and heard by me regardless of any official announcement.

Read the article I wrote for SX here. 

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15 Minutes with Peter Madden

I have thought long and hard about whether I was even going to blog about this. I think the likes of Peter Madden and Bob Katter get too much airtime for their bigotry and discriminative antics as it is.

And “antics” is what I’ve finally settled on calling it. There is nothing logical about the arguments they pose against marriage equality, and after having firsthand experience attempting a conversation with Mr. Madden last Sunday, all I could do was walk away shaking my head.

There is no doubt that many of the statements that Mr. Madden has made over the course of his “political” career have been nothing short of sensationalised media ploys, which in my opinion have worked. After all, we all know his name!

In particular, the media coverage that “That Truck” generated, especially within our own community media, which dominated stories and news feeds for days. This drew much more attention to the message he was spreading, and without doubt seeded the large amount of submissions made to the senate inquiry earlier this week, which I would like to think impacted the quantity of submissions from both sides.

There is no doubt in my mind that the messages the truck was spreading were discriminatory and ill-informed, and I can understand the passion and emotional distress that these messages would bring to members of our community. Messages promoting a so called “dark side” of same-sex marriage and a perceived link between homosexuality and pedophilia are not appropriate in today’s society.

But as many sources tell, including his own, his freedom of speech allowed him to do this.

Kristina Keneally this week spoke against the O’Farrell governments “Get Clover” bill and I quote from her opening paragraph:

“I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.”

Unfortunately this concept, this principle of democracy, is one that I hold dear. If it was not for this democratic principle we would not be on the cusp of equality. Period.

It was not that long ago when we were the sole figures in a park suffering the barrage of anti-gay sentiment.  The members of CAMP, the Mardi Gras 78ers all suffered, at times brutally, for their voice. In fact, their voice was illegal by nature of what they were saying, and many were jailed and institutionalised for their freedom of speech.

So to that end, I must defend and respect Peter’s right to speak his truth, even though I, like many many others, don’t like it. I defend this right as it also affords me the right of reply.

I’m still not really sure why I went to Hyde Park on Sunday. I think I expected to see a peaceful sit-in of marriage equality supporters and a structured and civil display of debate between Peter Madden and equality supporters.  After all, Peter Madden was going to the park alone to talk with anyone who questioned his messages. Whether or not this was yet another stunt by Madden only he knows.

And a peaceful debate it should have been. We are fighting for a world where we are all free, equal, accepted and respected, regardless of our differences.

What I experienced was a display of activism gone a little too far. We were clearly the majority, and I would say by 200 to one. What a contrast this seems to the meetings of CAMP in the 70’s where members of our community were the minority to a very loud crowd.

It was hard to move my way through the angry protestors to speak with him. While I do not debate our right to speak in response, or the anger of those present, the constant drowning out of the crowd with loudspeakers and chanting made conversation with the man near impossible. Additionally, the crowd went into waves of uproar over statements he made, which made debating these statements equally challenging.

The deafening chants and disrespectful comments thrown back at him were in my opinion a little over-zealous and unnecessary. The opportunity to present a different side of what he was saying to him was mainly lost from the over-zealous protest attitude of the crowd. Loudspeakers being used one foot from his ear to get a point across multiple times, chanting, screaming and yelling.

In my opinion we only gave him further fodder for his description of angry and hostile “screaming homosexual activists” as described on stand4marriage.org.au.

When I finally did receive an opportunity to meet him face to face, I introduced myself to him and I shook his hand. Not because I respected him, but I did so to show that I came to talk to him with peaceful intent. If he is representing the teachings of God, then I was adamant I would speak to him with my idea of what those teachings are too.

He seemed shocked that I would do this. Not many of those who where speaking to him were treating him in a peaceful manner.

I have always said that in order to win this battle, the greater battle of equality, acceptance and respect, we must act toward each other, as well as those who do not accept us, in the way to which we want to be treated.

How can we expect the values we are so desperate to achieve when we cannot display them ourselves?

So to that end I met Peter with acceptance, respect and tolerance for his difference of opinion.

As I asked him questions, asked him why he feels a certain way, what he believed and what he wanted to achieve, I quickly realised that this was never going to be an argument I could respectfully win. At the very least I could present my point of view and move on, and I am proud that I have met such an oppressor head on and managed to articulate my disappointment towards his “antics” and messages yet remain calm and respectful to the messenger.

I was going to provide a re-cap of our conversation here, but really it is pointless. His arguments fell down when presented with correct statistics and logical arguments, and I really don’t want to give his messages any more air time except to say that I found him extremely frustrating.

I have noticed though, that he hasn’t blogged, press released or updated his websites since Sunday. Maybe the news of the amount of overwhelmingly positive submissions to the senate inquiry has silenced him? Maybe for a while anyway. I am sure he will return with another truck, or website or message linking hate to those who are different in the not too distant future.

In the end we agreed to disagree, but we did agree that we were on opposite sides of an ideological war. That there is a social evolution taking place (where he correctly reminded us that he did not believe in evolution) and that we would come out the other side either victorious of defeated.

I just hope that the side that comes out on top does so having won the battle with respect, openness, acceptance and tolerance for these differences of opinions.

Because it was not so long ago that we were the oppressed solo figures in a park, trying to get our point across to the majority whilst being shouted down. And isn’t this acceptance, this respect, this civility, this freedom to be who we are, what we’re fighting for?

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Mardi Gras Logo Schmogo – in or out?.

For years now people have been telling me “that they feel that Mardi Gras does not represent them.” That it is a flawed corporate beast that cares only about parties, tourism dollars and funding and our community was much bigger and diverse than the G and L, and B,T,Q and I. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind right now that something had to change at Mardi Gras, and I believe no matter what that change was, it was going to bring about much passionate and robust debate and muddied battlefields.

Change by nature is uncomfortable but necessary.

The French Author François de la Rochefoucauld wrote in the 16th century “the only constant in life is change”. And as an out proud women I can only rejoice for the change that life has brought me, my friends and community. Without change on all levels we would still be battling the police on that first Saturday in March.

But with change we should never forget, and it would be remiss of me not to comment on the recent announcements made by the now, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG). The past 9 years of my life have been spent supporting and working in this organisation towards what I believe was a common goal of respect and acceptance of all our differences. A goal of infinite change. Change in behaviours, in laws, in mindset. Change for the better, change for total acceptance and equality.

I need to stress at this point that I no longer speak on behalf of the organisation, nor do I feel any responsibility to support, endorse or criticize this recent direction. My opinion is now just my own. And like most people in the community today I have struggled somewhat if forming my overall view. I must admit I have had mixed feelings about certain elements of it, but for the most part I agree with the direction.

For the sake of clarity around these current arguments let’s break this down into some bite sized pieces.

The organisation name is changing from New Mardi Gras to Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. In my mind this is sad as it is the end of an era, but also exciting at the same time. As Michael Rolik the CEO said at the launch, it is time to re-claim the company name that we lost 9 years ago. It’s a clear message that we have survived some pretty hard times, some rollercoaster moments and we are back. Lest we not forget the organisation and people of New Mardi Gras that enabled us to get here though because frankly it’s been a bloody hard road.

There are now two new logos: Well, really it’s one and a half new logos. The old/new organisational logo and a brand new one for the event. The organisational logo reflects our heritage, contains the words “Gay and Lesbian” and is a clear indicator that this organisation is a GLBTQI community one. The season logo I’m sure I will grow to love in time. It represents in its simplest form what we have been fighting for for the past 33 years. Love.

The Event name has been changed to Sydney Mardi Gras and the event has been opened to include everyone who does not identify or sits outside the “alphabet soup”.

Quick Note here: I actually find the term “alphabet soup” to describe our beautiful and diverse communities rather offensive, So maybe MG and everyone else who uses this term could re-think that and come up with something a little more respectful to describe our diversity!

This event name change is the one change that has most people talking. And talking they are. Some love it, others hate it, some think that the SGLMG has sold out to commercialism or to the government. Some think that by dropping the G and L the organisation is leaving its community behind. The headline in Friday’s SMH “Mardi Gras goes straight” leaves a lot to be desired and is frankly just sensationalism. Poor form SMH.

Allow me some digression now to get to my point.

I am a 40ish woman who has lived in Sydney for nearly 20 years now. During that time I have come out as a lesbian, I have “dated” boys – secretly, I have experienced the queer, leather, and fetish communities. I have identified as Queer. I struggled with being maybe bisexual for many years. I self-identified as a femme fag last year and now I wonder if that is still relevant. As the chair of the SGLMG Youth committee, Leah Weber, explained at the launch, I was a not so young person thinking I had to choose an initial and stick with it.

I thought I had to choose the L label because of my then role in the organisation and this community. Bearing in mind up until 2002 bisexuals could not be a member of the SGLMG. We couldn’t have a queer, maybe bisexual, most often lesbian leading Mardi Gras – or could we? Well we did. I just wasn’t strong enough to admit it to a community who insisted on enforcing labels and identities to belong to certain groups so you could be categorised.

So for me, personally, the decision to remove the G and L initials from the event NAME, but not the organisational name, is a good one. As an organisation we have fought for so long for the acceptance, the respect, the “it doesn’t matter” attitude to be who we want to be and who we are. This event should be welcoming and available to everyone who is sexually diverse,  regardless of how they identify this week, month, or year. And let’s be realistic, for years now let’s remember that all of us, both within the community and out of it, have been calling it “Mardi Gras”. Period.

So here is my bottom line on this whole logo name schomgo debacle: It is still a GLBTQI-whatever organisation. It is still a GLBTQI-whatever led event. The board, staff and organisation is still bound by the objects of our constitution, which make it very clear what our purpose is and the organisation still has a membership that votes and elects a board to govern these objects.

If I could be critical of anything, I would question why the current board and staff could not have learnt from the mistakes of the past and held a specific public member consultation on this very topic and its plans. They are, after all, accountable to their members each year at the AGM, and the members own the company. It’s not too late SGLMG to call a public meeting and discuss these in person with the community you represent, rather than have this play out in a disgusting manner on facebook and online forums?

For right now, if you are a member, It is time to keep the board and the staff accountable to upholding these values and objects of GLBTQI Pride as listed in our constitution and ensure that our Mardi Gras remains a celebration of our community diversity.

Such as, I’m sure the season guide will bear the title the “Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras presents the Sydney Mardi Gras” in big bold letters spelling out the rich GLBTQI heritage. Just as I’m sure the coming press releases, key messages and communications will re-enforce our history and origin, and ensure the visibility of ALL our communities just as our seasons have done before.

The only difference as I see it, and I hope to see it, is now anyone can join in and celebrate our diversity, our love, our difference. EVERYONE is included. Because how hypocritical would we be as an organisation and community to stand in the streets and say accept us, respect us, give us equality, free us from discrimination but don’t you dare come to our “party”. As a community if we want total acceptance, total respect, total equality we must cross that invisible line and welcome all those who already accept, celebrate and fight with us, for us. Regardless of which initial they align to.

Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in the world” and I want to live in a world where I don’t need to have an initial constantly attached to my name to be accepted, respected, loved and treated equally.

And afterall, isn’t that what we have been fighting for?

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He had “F.a.g” carved into his back

Today I read* a story from a young man who was brutally scarred and beaten for being gay.

“I had fag cut into my back in three places then fuck here with an arrow pointing to arsehole across my but then held and repeatedly abused with sticks”  (Stuart, 21 years.)

I also read about a father who beat his daughter

“I got 3 broken ribs, a broken collar bone, a punctured lung, my jaw broken in 2 different places and 7 of my teeth got punched out when my father found out i was a homosexual.” (Sian, 19 years)

This is not OK.

Whether you believe in the institution or not, marriage equality remains so important for our community. Why? Because it sends a very clear message to everyone that being gay is OK. Loving who you love is OK. That everyone is equal in their love and the families we create.

As a community we have come a long way in the past 40 years. From a country that criminalised homosexuality and brutally beat offenders in prison, to a country where legislation has us nearly equal.

Marriage Equality is yet another hurdle. We as a community must win this right to truly place us as equal citizens and society members. Imagine a world where people are invited to weddings and the genders of the brides or grooms are irrelevant.

I long for the day that Mardi Gras is irrelevant. The day we do not need to keep marching down Oxford Street to rid our world of discrimination, of harassment, of homophobia, or violence and inequality.

Same-Sex marriage is one of these moments we must all come together to fight for and win.

Australian Marriage Equality is a volunteer run organisation that goes head to head with large structured institutions, many of who have tax deductible status. AME does not. Hardly a fair fight.

AME relies on the generosity of our communities and friends to get our message heard. Through media, through ongoing polling, and through sending spokespeople to Canberra to speak with our elected representatives one on one.

They need our help to keep going. To keep fighting for the world we all want, we all believe in and all need.

We have come so far in our long road to equality and we are nearly there. This is our fight to win. But we can just as easily lose this fight right now.

The combined Hen$ night and Buck$ night  parties this coming friday September 23rd, are fundraisers for this cause. Every person involved in the events are volunteers themselves, from the DJ’s to the Performers, to the producers. The venues are providing the spaces free of charge.

The money raised from these events will specifically go towards Media and polling in the lead up to the National ALP conference in December, where it is hoped that the ALP will endorse the next stages in the road to equality.

And now we are calling on you to help.

Buy a ticket to Hen$ or Buck$ through http://www.daisytickets.com/ they are guaranteed to be fantastic events with activities for everyone on the night.

Even if parties are not your thing you can still help buy buying a ticket and putting “DONATION” under the ticket name. Every dollar raised is a step closer to having our message heard and acted on.

It’s time to come together, not just for the right to marry, but for contributing to a cause that will see us closer to the world where fathers don’t break their daughter’s bones, and people don’t carve Fag into someone’s back for being gay.

I hope to see you there, or your donation in the ticket sales.

* Quotes from Writing Themselves in 3 (WTi3) report

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Why I won’t be speaking at the Mardi Gras AGM tomorrow

Image from Women Say Something by Kellie Lafranchi

It has been said that sacred cows make the best hamburgers. So, If the boards I’ve sat on over the past 3 years have done their job properly, they leave behind a legacy of governance, policy and process that allows our CEO to report on the activities of the organisation over the past year.

It is appropriate that our treasurer report on the financial outcome and for the returning co-chair to define the strategic vision of the company moving forward.

This will all happen tomorrow at our Annual General Meeting at 1pm.

So, with that in mind, I think it’s time to kill a sacred cow this year and do away with the exiting co-chairs speech at the AGM.

Why? Because All I have to say is contained in the infrastructure and vision left behind.

As it should be.

The CEO and boards I have worked with over the past 3 years have spent countless hours defining the best practices in governance, transparency and accountability. Spent many hours defining the vision and strategic plans for the organisation and the steps needed to get there. There is nothing I could say tomorrow that would add to these, or alter the plans that the incoming board are starting to form.

I ask the incoming board to respect the policies and hard work that previous boards and working groups have constructed before them and build on the successes already within the organisation.

I ask them to remember our organisation belongs to all our communities. A community which is diverse and wide with many different minorities and issues and I ask them to make decisions based on all of them, not just one.

I wish the incoming board the best for board unity, community engagement and a profitable season in 2011-2012.

This is my last Blog as Co-Chair of New Mardi Gras. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone I have worked with over the past 3 years, in particular my fellow directors and our CEO. It’s been simultaneously challenging and rewarding and I am left with a lifetime of memories and pride.

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Farewell, adieu, so long….

Later this week, nominations for Board positions will close at the Mardi Gras office. At 5pm on Friday, when the envelopes are opened, there will not be a nomination from me in the bunch.

Last year, around this time, I made a commitment to myself that I would dedicate one last year to the organisation. I have done that with all my energy and best intentions and I continue to work until August 6th in my elected role. Despite the request of my co-chair to re-stand and many months of careful consideration, I plan to honour the commitment I made to myself a year ago.

I returned to the organisation late in 2008 where the AGM was postponed due to lack of quorum and where only 5 people nominated for the board. The organisation had very little community engagement at this stage. We were also to embark on one of New Mardi Gras hardest periods with the parade party split of 2010.

The AGM in 2009 was a humbling experience for me. Facing the members with a mistake opened the door to engaging the members and community more in the affairs of the organisation. Although some headway has been made in this area, there is still more work to be done to achieve an effective and engaging framework for consultation.

I accepted the position of Co-Chair in 2009 against the advice of my counsel. I did so because I believe in the organisation and the community, and in the ethos of what the organisation stood for. The 2010 season was the most difficult season of the 6 seasons I have been on a Mardi Gras Board.

The AGM of 2010 put our organisation at significant risk following a season where protecting the brand was paramount. I agreed to stand for another term to begin the process of turning the financial result around, re-engaging a lost community and paying particular emphasis to women in the organisation.

2011 saw the Mardi Gras parade become a civil rights movement once again, which saw a huge focus on relationship equality. I was very proud to stand on Oxford street that night.

Of personal note for me, the Women Say Something event sold out during season. It was the first time in three years that I have seen women from such diverse generations and backgrounds come together and talk about their lives, opinions and values, and wanting to be part of a greater community. I was honored to be a part of this wonderful event and be amongst such inspiring women.

Mardi Gras is on the pinnacle of great change and transformation. What it requires now is fresh energy and passion to ensure the plans the current board have put in place and the progress we have made in U-turning the organisation, are seen through and indeed added to by people who are strategic, skilled and professional.

I hope that the individuals in our community who are quick to criticise do not provide a repeat of the election of last year over the coming month. The damage that occurs to the organisation by individuals has the potential to impact at the highest levels of our government relationships and our sponsors.

For members reading this, I firstly encourage you to vote, and then vote for those candidates that are skilled, professional, and strategic and are known to abide by our codes of conduct. You will see if individuals have signed the Candidate code of conduct shortly.

Whilst I am sad to leave the board, I will not leave the organisation entirely. I am excited to be able to step away from the overall big picture and focus in on areas that excite me. Area’s such as the women’s sub-committee and associated diversity programmes. I can now provide more energy to continue building these specific parts of the organisation and ensuring that women and minorities in our community continue to have a voice within Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras will always hold a special place in my heart and like any difficult intense relationship, I have laughed and cried in equal measures. Leaving is always hard, but it’s time. It’s time for me, and it’s time for the organisation to receive some fresh blood, passion and ideas to take it to the next level of its lifetime towards better years. I’m pleased that I could have been there to see it through some of its worst, and be able to hand it over knowing that it is on its way back to greatness.

See you at the AGM.

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