2013’s Sydney Mardi Gras Festival is now confirmed for February 12 through to March 3, with Fairday returning on Sunday February 10 and the Parade and Party confirmed for Saturday March 2.
So as Mardi Gras’ planning begins for next summer’s 35th anniversary season, will its recent controversies be ironed out? “We’re listening,” the festival’s crew tell Same Same.
35 outspoken people showed up to a Mardi Gras Parade feedback session in Redfern last week, organised by paraders who had specific concerns about the direction the annual event was taking. A lively discussion resulted as representatives from the Scarlett Alliance, the Raelian Association, and a nudist group argued that their floats had been dealt with unfairly.
Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Board member Damon Hartley and Amanda Keeling of Mardi Gras’ newly-created Community Engagement Committee were there to answer their concerns. Essentially, Parade acceptance goes along the lines of the graph below, with further details available in its Parade Entry Kit here.
The Mardi Gras crew reassured the Scarlett Alliance that they belonged as an important part of the Parade, representing Australian sex workers which had marched alongside Mardi Gras since its origins.
Meanwhile, the Raelians’ anti-religious messages may be controversial at a time when proactive Muslims and other LBGT-friendly faith-based groups are also marching, but if Mardi Gras can be assured that the Raelians’ future involvement in the Parade would be non-confrontational, they’d be welcomed back.
As for the group who seek to ‘be there and be bare’, nudity during the parade is illegal – but the nudists group aren’t giving up, hoping that Mardi Gras will one day challenge the city’s authorities and allow its participants to bare all.
“It’s a flagship Sydney event – but it’s also community based and grassroots.”
“Mardi Gras has always been a shitfight,” summed up former Board member Siri May at the meeting. “Whether to include lesbians and later other groups, when to hold it, and is it a protest or a celebration? We’ve fought about these and many more issues several times over the years.”
This time around there are several regular themes appearing as people sound off about Mardi Gras. While most people had a cracker of a season enjoying several awesome events, principal concerns are around rampant commercialisation, its future on television, whether or not Mardi Gras is actually listening to its members, and the lingering divisive issue of the festival’s name change.
So to follow up on the Parade feedback meeting, we posed a few questions to Mardi Gras’ organisers, and their answers are shown in full below…
Q: Last week’s feedback session on the Parade was heated at times but a lot of constructive feedback was received. How do you feel it went? And will concerns be taken on board in planning for next year’s parade?
Amanda Keeling of Mardi Gras’ Community Engagement Committee replies:
The feedback session was really valuable for us to listen to some community members’ experiences of Mardi Gras during the 2012 season.
We found it really constructive and appreciated the different points of view, and for issues to be discussed. The current SGLMG board is keen to hear how communication and processes around parade entries, and across the festival in general, can be improved. The concerns raised at the forum will be discussed further through the SGLMG Community Engagement Committee in the lead up to the 2012/13 season.
Q: Exclusion, or uncertainly about whether a group can join the Parade, is naturally a concern for some organisations. How was your Parade Criteria decided upon, what does it aim to do, and how can groups respond to them if they feel they’re unfair?
Sydney Gay and lesbian Mardi Gras Board member Damon Hartley replies:
In May 2010 SGLMG undertook a three-month consultation around parade criteria where over 200 submissions were received. This culminated in a community meeting that considered the main issues and proposed improvements. The consultation focused on issues such as the objectives of the Parade, who should be in it, how it should be funded, including the role of sponsors, and how to make it more relevant, engaging and entertaining.
SGLMG then took these recommendations, including revised Parade criteria, to its membership. We felt this was necessary because the criteria are in effect the rules that define the composition of the Parade and therefore something the members should decide. This process established new parade entry criteria that have been in place since.
The essence of the criteria is that SGLMG welcomes Sydney Mardi Gras Parade entries from members of LGBTQI community. These entries are welcome to march and say something about anything they think is important. People and organisations from outside the LGBTQI community, including sponsors, are required to make a statement in support of the LGBTQI community.
If an entry does not meet the criteria, or if it’s not clear cut, the entry is reviewed by senior staff and two Board members who discuss and work with the entry to better understand its composition and message. As a result of this, in many cases any issue is resolved.
If groups feel the criteria are unfair they can raise this with the organisation (as they did at the meeting). The criteria were developed less than two years ago through an extensive process ratified by the members of SGLMG, so any changes to the criteria would need to follow a similar approach to be fair to that process and the membership. If we can improve how we deal with any unclear entry applications, we will certainly do so.