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No gays, no lesbians? MardiGras rebrand sparks anger

Some of Mardi Gras’ biggest long-time supporters are incensed that Sydney Mardi Gras’ new name and look doesn’t include the words ‘Gay and Lesbian’.\n

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

29th November 2011 22:30

Alessia Valenza | ILGA Oceania

The annual event’s new logo and plans for the 2012 season were unveiled yesterday, and while many welcomed the new logo and guest act announcements, many others were concerned over dropping the event’s traditional title ‘Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’ down to ‘Sydney Mardi Gras’.

Former Mardi Gras President Richard Cobden has been particularly vocal. “This morning’s Sydney Morning Herald front page sums it up: Mardi Gras goes straight,” he tells Same Same.

“Neither the organisation, and especially not this Board or staff, had any permission or mandate to make Mardi Gras straight. [Mardi Gras Chair] Peter Urmson says ‘this is our gift to the city’. It was not his to give.”

The most immediate and visible result of what they have done will be to remove the most frequent, favourable, beneficial and powerful uses of the words ‘gay and lesbian’, Cobden adds. “For 20-plus years we have been able to force the mainstream media to call it the GAY AND LESBIAN MARDI GRAS. They had to say the words. For a long time they did not want to but we made them. That has been thrown away.”

For years it has been a condition of non-GLBTIQ organisations and businesses that, if allowed in at all, they must give an explicit message of support to the gay and lesbian community, he points out. “Even major sponsors had to do that. How can the organisation possibly ask for that now when they themselves have dropped an explicit gay and lesbian message?

“Finally, sponsors had to use the words ‘gay and lesbian’ when associating themselves with Mardi Gras. Making them do so was a powerful force for liberation. Now they don’t have to use those words. Easier for marketing people to get sponsorship dollars and keep their jobs; a big step backwards for gay and lesbian rights.”

Cobden concludes: “Had they properly consulted all of these appalling ramifications might have occurred to them. This decision has to be reversed immediately.”

Several comments here on Same Same also highlight how many potential festival-goers are disgruntled with Mardi Gras’ new name. “What’s the point of all this if we exclude the two words that mean the most to the purpose or reason for the organisation’s existence?” typed one. “It erases the gay and lesbian protest history of how this amazing event founded itself and who it celebrates,” summed up another.

“To me it seems like they are saying ‘it’s ok to be gay and lesbian behind the scenes, but not in public’. Who would have thought that Mardi Gras would go back in the closet?”


We asked Mardi Gras’ Head of Marketing & Communications Damien Eames why the organisation felt their specific change of name from ‘Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’ to ‘Sydney Mardi Gras’ was necessary.

There are three major reasons for the change, he responds. “First, we represent a wider range of interests than just gay and lesbian, with intersex being unanimously voted for inclusion this year at our AGM, joining bisexual, transgender and queer as communities we exist to work for.

“Second, we recognise too that many, particularly younger people are much less likely to want to be labeled. That’s the audience that we have to connect with to ensure our future.

“Third, we have set out a vision that is all about diversity and inclusion, but with at its core a LGBTQI pride event. We are inviting everyone who shares our values – like PFLAG or the Fag Hags – to feel they belong one hundred per cent to the Mardi Gras family.”

Mardi Gras’ aim is to inspire the world to love each other through celebrating the power and beauty of diversity, adds Eames. “Our new logo and the name underpin that.”

“We think it’s a beautiful purpose that we can all work towards. It doesn’t change that our gay and lesbian, and our transgender, bisexual, queer and intersex identity is part of our DNA.”


Along with the new logo and branding of the festival, the other key change Mardi Gras made yesterday was to change their organisation’s name, continues Eames. “Recognising that New Mardi Gras was not new any more we very happily changed our name back to Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.

“That step on its own is a reminder that even though we now represent a wider family we came from the struggle of gay and lesbian people to roll back discrimination. There is absolutely no question of the identity of the organisation or indeed the event being lost. We are not subtracting from what we do already, we are adding to it.”

What has made Mardi Gras so successful compared to most other pride events around the world is not just gay and lesbian people marching, but the wider community that has come out to support it, he adds. “We believe this change will just widen that further. We aim to make this the most successful event in Australia, but one owned by its gay and lesbian community. That’s real power.”


During the Mardi Gras name debate in the last 24 hours, some have wondered whether a change wasn’t long overdue, as the words ‘gay and lesbian’ may not be seen as inclusive enough of other members of our community, like our bisexual, transgender and intersex citizens, who are of course also welcomed at the annual festival’s events.

Eames says it’s true the words ‘Gay and Lesbian’ don’t truly sum up the diverse range of people Mardi Gras hopes to represent these days.

“We represent people who do not identify with either one of those words, but are very much part of our community,” he explains. “We can’t pay lip service to representing their interests. We could have called ourselves the Sydney LGBTQI Mardi Gras, but the truth is that even that would alienate some people who love us for our diversity, but hate the labelling.

“Sydney Mardi Gras catches all and is simple, punchier and actually matches what people all over the world and in other parts of Australia call the event. Day to day most of us just talk about Mardi Gras.”