Sydney Mardi Gras attacked for being ‘too corporate’

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The world’s biggest gay festival, Sydney Mardi Gras, has been criticised for being too interested in corporate relationships, rather than community values and local activism.

Earlier this month, festival organisers New Mardi Gras (NMG) refused to give a float to an animal rights group, despite its gay members and having been a fixture at the event for the last 14 years.

Now, a tourism booklet by Australian gay rights advocate Rodney Croome has been banned. Mr Croome, who produces the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Visitors’ Guide, will not be allowed to distribute copies or have a themed stall at next weekend’s event.

He said: “The Visitors’ Guide includes information on Tasmanian gay and lesbian history, culture and community not available elsewhere, which patrons of Fair Day [Mardi Gras] will find valuable regardless of whether they are planning a Tasmanian holiday.

“I fought against numerous anti-gay bans in Tasmania in the 1990s – from the banning of our stall at Salamanca Market to the banning of anti-homophobia materials in schools – but never in my wildest dreams did I expect a mainland gay organisation to ban information about Tasmania,” he added.

Mr Croome’s publication has been banned due to NMG’s sponsorship deal with Events New South Wales. He argued this was “censorship” motivated by money.

When Animal Liberation NSW claimed it had been told it was “not queer enough” to warrant a float in the procession, the story was covered by SX magazine before being picked up by gay news outlets around the world, including

However, SX writer Peter Hackney found his story was removed from the publication’s website the next day, by order of the publisher.

Writing for The Scavenger, Mr Hackney said: “Exactly why the story was scuppered by SX is unclear – there’s no doubting its newsworthiness, as its viral spread through other media showed.

“Could it be anything to do with the fact that Evolution Publishing (publishers of SX) is the official media partner for NMG [New Mardi Gras]?”

He accused of Mardi Gras of being a “monolith that exists for its own sake – instead of the queer community it represents”.

NMG has a number of deals with companies such as Ikea, bank ANZ and cable television company Foxtel and allows company representatives to join the parade on floats, regardless of how gay they are.

Mr Croome also questioned why NMG signs exclusive sponsorship deals.

“Australia’s other gay and lesbian festivals get by okay without exclusivity clauses in their sponsorship deals, as do other niche travel events like garden shows, and food and wine shows, where Events NSW and Tourism Tasmania participate on an equal footing,” he said.

“Mardi Gras seems blind to the fact that the cost of exclusive contracts in terms of community ill-will far outweighs whatever short-term financial benefit they may have.”

In 2002, the festival was forced into receivership when its financial affairs ran into trouble. It was saved by NMG, a new company set up with funding from various gay groups.

This week, it was reported that for the first time, the parade and after-party will be held on separate days.

Some have claimed that the parade was moved to accommodate a gay cruise company sponsoring the festival, Atlantis Events.

It was claimed that NMG move the parade so it would coincide with the weekend Atlantis Events’ ship was in Sydney, although NMG have blamed this on an “administrative error”.

NMG chief executive Michael Rolik brushed aside the complaints, saying that number restrictions had to be enforced to ensure safety.

He said: “Every year New Mardi Gras faces complaints from some quarter that they have been excluded from some aspect of our festival. It is actually testament to the delicacy and good judgement of the volunteers from our community who are in the front line on many of these decisions that there are so few complaints.”

“We have successive record years in terms of parade participants and we really are at capacity if we want to continue to have a safe parade.

“We have also had to be more stringent in applying our guidelines for entries. That has meant in a number of cases knocking back organisations who have previously been able to get into the parade but whose agenda has always been about issues other than gay pride.

“Of approximately 150 entries in this year’s parade only a handful are from our major sponsors. These are organisations who make a significant contribution to ensure that the parade can happen each year. They are also organisations who we see as leaders in promoting diversity in the workplace and in addressing the needs of the GLBT community.”