Mardi Gras Is Charging For Tickets To The 2021 Parade

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Mardi Gras is moving next year.

The festival is navigating COVID restrictions by setting up a ticketed event in the Sydney Cricket Ground instead of the usual parade.

But the plan has worried members of the LGBTIQ+ community who think that charging people to attend would make it exclusive.

I want to take a look at why moving the parade is complicated, and how the backlash is building on criticism around Mardi Gras’ relationship with corporations.

23,000 seats are on sale for Sydney’s 2021 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras at $20 a ticket.

It’s the first time that Mardi Gras has charged for its main parade and the organisation have said that the fee is there to cover the costs of a COVID-safe event.

The fact that the organisers managed to pull this together in a pandemic has been really positively received by a lot of people.

But For Others, There’s A Real Concern About What That Ticket Price Means For The Community. 

Sally Rugg: “Myself and some other people in the LGBTIQ+ community felt a little bit alarmed by that, and there’s a couple of reasons [why]. The first is the really obvious one which is: that for some people $20 for an individual ticket or $50 for a family ticket is actually too high a cost, that’s a barrier for these people to attend. Because the Mardi Gras is all about pride and acceptance and inclusion, to have a cost barrier, a price barrier, felt pretty alarming to me.”

That’s Sally Rugg, she’s an activist, campaigner and member of the LGBTIQ+ community.

The Mardi Gras organisation know that the cost could be too high for some people so they’re setting aside 1,000 free tickets, but Sally is worried that people who are truly on the margins might not have the confidence or the means to ask for them before they’re all snatched up.

She thinks the event could opt for a sliding scale ticketing system or find other ways to cover tickets.

SG: “I think what would be really great is that if they do see that a bunch of people are unable to buy tickets that they approach some of the corporations who march in the parade every year … these are really big multinational companies you know – banks, telcos, insurance companies, huge corporations – and say, ‘hey would you cover 1,000 tickets, could you chip in this much?’.

And I think it would be a really good opportunity for these corporations and these companies to go that extra mile with their allyship to our community.”

The Mardi Gras’ relationship with corporations really feeds into a longstanding debate about the event’s integrity.

The parade has its roots in a political protest from 1978 – when homosexuality was still illegal – that turned into a violent clash with police.

Over the years, social justice movements have been really important to Mardi Gras but the parade’s politics have also been a bit watered down by corporate involvement or ‘rainbow washing’, and it’s led to a lot of criticism.

That clash between commercial and political interests isn’t specific to Sydney’s Mardi Gras. It’s a conflict that’s becoming more and more apparent in pride events around the world.

Sally says that corporations could still have their place, but they also need to be held to account.

SG: “If they are standing with us and the LGBTIQ+ community, not just when we’re partying in the streets but also when there’s an issue, that is getting stuck in the middle of the culture wars.

All of the sort of less glamorous issues that face our community … [it shows] that they’re putting their money where their mouth is.”

Corporate involvement in Mardi Gras is complicated but the organisation also seems to be using this year as an opportunity to return to some more political causes.

Next year they’re launching a campaign called ‘Always On‘, which is dedicating a bunch of time and money to developing queer performances and content, as well as supporting grassroots organisations.

SG: “I think it’s a great year to reflect on that logistically and conceptually, particularly as Sydney Mardi Gras prepares for World Pride in a couple of years – where the spotlight of the world, certainly the world’s LGBTIQ community, will be on Sydney. And it could be such an opportunity for the Mardi Gras organisation to showcase its loyalty and its pride of its political roots.”

The Takeaway

Mardi Gras’ turn towards the SCG has its complications and hopefully they find ways to make sure the event is inclusive for all members of the LGBTIQ+ community.

But this conversation is even bigger than that and there are a lot of questions that the organisation will have to answer in coming years about integrity and how true the parade will remain to its history.