'Change the name back', Mardi Gras told
SYDNEY: Members of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGMLG) and the wider LGBTI community are seemingly overwhelmingly in agreement that the Sydney Mardi Gras parade and festival requires the presence of the words ‘Gay and Lesbian’ in its official title, following a community forum in Paddington earlier this week.
The meeting on Wednesday at Paddington RSL, which attracted only about 10 people as well as SGMLG board members including Damon Hartley, co-chair Siri Kommedahl and CEO Michael Rolik, was the latest in a long line of community forums held by SGLMG following the widespread outrage that met the board’s controversial decision in November 2011 to drop the words ‘Gay and Lesbian’ from the Festival’s name.
The decision created further confusion after the board decided to revert to the name of SGLMG as the organisation’s trading name after a number of years known as New Mardi Gras.
At the meeting, independent consultant Lou-Anne Lind – who has been hired by SGLMG to compile a report on the contentious issues – unveiled the results of a survey recently undertaken by the organisation on the views of members regarding the name change.
Of the 1,678 people who completed the survey 72 per cent supported the name being changed from Sydney Mardi Gras to Sydney Gay and Lesbian Festival while 73 per cent supported a change of name back to Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. 77 per cent said they supported the current trading name of SGLMG.
Lind said her research so far had shown that younger people were however the most likely to support not having the term ‘Gay and Lesbian’ in the parade’s official title.
In response, one Mardi Gras member said it was understandable young people were against the terms as they may not be too comfortable with their identities because many schools were still dangerously homophobic and transphobic.
“I’m interested in knowing how these young people will feel in a few years time when they’ve grown up a bit and found themselves and are more comfortable with their identities,” he said.
Another audience member received strong support when he questioned why consultations were continuing to take place considering Mardi Gras’s own survey and the ensuing public reaction suggested members were not happy with the new parade title.
Hartley admitted the board “stuffed up” when implementing the name change but it was now important to have a “proper structured process” where Mardi Gras members would be provided the final vote on the issue in May at an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM).
Another audience member queried the commercial reasons behind the name change and said it was unclear what SGLMG was trying to achieve.
“I have not heard one bit of evidence that ticket sales will improve drastically with a more bland or respectable name,” she said. “We are selling out our visibility.”
Rolik said participation at all of Mardi Gras’s events had actually been increasing year on year in recent times with ticket sales for this season already breaking previous records.
“The only decline we are experiencing is a decline in our actual membership,” he said.
Another audience member said it was urgent the issue was solved quickly because as it stood now Sydney was pretty much the only major city in the world not to have a Gay Pride parade. “Even Uganda has one,” the man said. “We instead have the Sydney Parade.”
The SGLMG board were also made aware during the evening of the personal hurt the name change had caused despite claims Sydney Mardi Gras would be more appealing to and inclusive of young people, as well as bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Despite repeated requests by at least one member of SGLMG, the organisation has so far refused to release a breakdown of how many bisexual, transgender and intersex people it now counts as members.
“It’s an important issue considering Mardi Gras claimed the name change was about being more inclusive,” one man in the audience said.
A female doctor who was present said the day the term ‘Gay and Lesbian’ was removed from the parade’s title made her recall the horrible feeling she had when she was advised by colleagues to not mention the years of work she did with gay organisations on her CV lest she be looked over for promotion.
“What you did by trying to be more inclusive actually ended up excluding people like me,” she tearfully told the meeting.
Mardi Gras will hold another community forum on the issue from 2.30pm, Saturday, February 2 at Customs House Library before a final vote is taken by members at an EGM in May.
Image: Jason Nichol