Should Mardi Gras remain ‘Gay & Lesbian’?

This short opinion piece appeared alongside 4 other viewpoints in the Sydney Morning Herald, in response to the Sydney Mardi Gras name change, on December 3 2011 (incidentally, my 28th birthday).

I am producing blackcat lounge, a month-long season of cabaret, as part of Mardi Gras 2012. I’ve spent months programming the season and was looking forward to the launch.

We signed on to the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras so were disappointed when the news came out (excuse the pun) that the festival was to become a generic celebration of all love – not a queer event.

I’m all for the wider community participating in Mardi Gras. But not at the expense of a celebration of queer culture, queer activism and queer history.

The problem isn’t the renaming itself; ”gay and lesbian” does not represent the entire GLBTQI (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) community. I’ve long thought it needed replacing with ”queer” or ”pride” or another more inclusive term.

The problem is the justification for this name change, and the sensationalised media message that Mardi Gras was ”going straight”.

It seemed in order for Mardi Gras to be for everyone, it needed to be about everyone; an assumption we jumped to easily, in light of increased corporate sponsorship in recent years.

The acts we’ve booked have queer themes and queer musicians at the helm but include artists from all persuasions. For me, my straight collaborators’ willingness to be involved is a wonderful sign of change. Not one of them suggested we remove ”queer” from the event title so they could feel included.

For some, equality means being accepted as ”the same as everyone else”. For others, myself included, equality means getting the same rights, and celebrating what makes us different. I like that my community is different. I like learning from and celebrating communities different to my own.

I want to be constantly striving for more equality for our whole community, not saying, ”Well things are pretty good for most of the gays now, so let’s just have a party.”

I have been attending Mardi Gras since I was seven, as a child of lesbian mothers and now as a queer woman. I have shared Mardi Gras with family, friends, lovers, colleagues and countless friendly strangers and I’m not ready to give up on it yet. I hope my criticisms will be heard and we can have a Mardi Gras that represents the full diversity of the queer community.