Members of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will vote on a contentious proposal to remove police and corrective services from the parade at the organisation’s annual general meeting.
The vote due on Saturday is the latest development in an ongoing stoush over the political direction of the famous gay pride parade.
The motion has been put forward by Pride in Protest, an activist group fighting for the event to return to its protest roots.
“The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired a global responsibility of every human to recognise the damage and the enormous human life cost that comes at the hands of the police,” Pride in Protest organiser Bridget Harilaou told AAP.
The motion calls on police organisations and associated organisations to be barred from having floats in all future Mardi Gras parades.
“This is in recognition of the immense violence perpetrated by the police and corrective services towards First Nations communities who are over-policed and over-incarcerated, particularly LGBTQIA+ First Nations people who do not feel safe and are excluded as a result of police and corrective service’s participation in the parade,” the motion states.
The Mardi Gras board told AAP in a statement that excluding “groups or individuals who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer or our allies (LGBTIQ+) from Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras events based on their career, association, political affiliation or the banner they wish to march under does not align with our intrinsic, core value of inclusion.”
Similar motions were outvoted at two previous AGMs.
At the 2019 AGM, Pride in Protest succeeded in electing a representative, Charlie Murphy, to the eight-member board. The group has four candidates running for election on Saturday, including Ms Harilaou.
The current board opposes all the motions submitted by Pride in Protest to the 2020 AGM.
In late October, the group published an open letter to the board asking them to “reconsider the participation” of police and corrective services in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
More than 1000 people signed the letter, including prominent performers Tom Ballard, Montaigne, and Brendan Maclean. A number of the signatories have performed or spoken at official Mardi Gras events.
In a response published on Thursday, Mardi Gras expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement but declined to expel the police floats from the parade.
It said it would undertake transparent consultation on the Mardi Gras Police Accord, an agreement between protest organisers and police that aims to ensure a safe experience for participants.
Even if the Pride in Protest motion garnered a majority of votes, it would not bind the board.
But Ms Harilaou said it would “reflect really poorly” on the organisation if it defied a decision by the majority of the membership.
The group will put forward a number of other motions, including a call to formally disinvite Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian from the 2021 parade. They also want Mardi Gras to support defunding the police and abolishing prisons.
The board told AAP it would be guided by the objects of the organisation’s constitution and its strategic plan in considering the motions.
The NSW Police Force’s Corporate Sponsor for Sexuality, Gender Diversity and Intersex, Assistant Commissioner Gelina Talbot, told AAP the force was committed to continuing to march in the parade, as it has done since 1996, and that marching demonstrated its support for its LGBTIQ employees and the broader queer community.
“We acknowledge our history, and therefore the importance of working closely with the community and in participating in the Mardi Gras Festival, to reduce barriers to reporting crime, and to publicly and proudly state our support for the LGBTIQ community,” assistant commissioner Talbot said in a statement.
Involvement in the festival also builds visibility for a liaison program between the police and the queer community, which helps police address crime experienced by that community, she said.
Due to COVID-19, the Mardi Gras Parade will take place at the Sydney Cricket Ground on March 6. The organisation expects 5000 people will participate in the parade and 23,000 will watch on from the stadium stands.