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?