The Board of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras say they don’t believe their festival’s name-change to Sydney Mardi Gras was a mistake, but today apologised for not adequately consulting their members before making the polarising decision.
At a ‘Community Information Session’ meeting this afternoon in Darlinghurst, the entire Board faced criticism from many of the fifty people assembled.
The attendees had several concerns about the name change, which has especially angered those with a long history with the festival, and those who see the ‘gay and lesbian’ brand as vital for visibility.
Though the cover of Sydney Mardi Gras’ official 2012 guide welcomed “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex pride,” the official name change meant NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s message inside did not actually mention LGBT people specifically, pointed out an attendee who added “in changing the name, you’ve lost me.”
“I feel betrayed,” said another, who pressed the Board on how much community and membership consultation had happened. Images of Mardi Gras are “beamed around the world,” came another comment. “It’s a beacon. And when we lose the name, we lose the point.”
A couple of Mardi Gras Board speakers said the name change happened to better welcome those of a younger generation less bound by traditional sexuality ‘labels’. But one attendee reminded the meeting that local LGBTI youth support network Twenty10’s Managing Director Rebecca Reynolds had spoken out strongly against the rebrand.
Not everyone reacted badly to the name change however – some at the meeting agreed with the move, while one attendee pointed out that the same situation happened back in 2003 but was reversed after similar community outrage.
“We need to look to the future”
As the meeting wrapped up, the Mardi Gras Board thanked the assembled crowd for their impassioned views, and sought to reassure all there that Mardi Gras “is still a fully fledged LGBTIQ festival, put on by an LGBTIQ organisation.”
“We haven’t changed what our parade and festival will look like,” added Mardi Gras Chair Pete Urmson. “We just want to it be bigger, bolder, stronger and better.”
“Will you admit you’ve made a mistake with how you’ve made this change – and are you sorry?” said the next questioner. “We feel we’ve been cheated on.”
Mardi Gras CEO Michael Rolik answered. “We don’t think we’ve made a mistake with the name change. But I think we could’ve done a better job in the process – and I make an apology if you feel cheated.”
Urmson added that Mardi Gras will explore options for addressing the naming concerns in the new year before the 2012 festival begins.