Politics

Cops And Corporations Don’t Care About Queer People, So Why Do They Pretend To?

Police, politicians, and brands only support Mardi Gras because it's useful to them, and we can't forget that.

Sydney Mardi Gras

If you’re LGBTIQ, chances are someone has hurled a slur at you at some point. It’s a regular occurrence for some of us and often involves violence, so these incidents can be super confronting.

Last week, ANZ released an ad to coincide with Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras where people stare into the camera and say gay slurs for around a minute. They also produced a browser extension which replaces gay slurs with rainbow emojis (yes, really).

In a surprise twist, many queer people thought this was a bad move.

Mostly it was just confusing: ANZ wanted to combat homophobia by… advertising slurs? All the awards to whichever marketing genius decided that the opposite of hate speech is #LoveSpeech.

ANZ have a history of being good allies. ANZ fronts up buckets of cash for Mardi Gras, and even flies out gay employees to attend the parade, and that support feels exceptional. They don’t need to do that.

When the world is so homophobic and transphobic, it seems backwards to criticise an institution which throws a bone our way.

But how much does rainbow capitalism ACTUALLY help queer people? The budget for the ad could have gone to an LGBTI legal service or a mental health service or a housing project. It could have gone towards a community-controlled advocacy or health organisation or funded research into hate speech.

If corporations truly care about homophobia, then why not take a stand against the government’s Religious Discrimination Bill? The new law will legalise discrimination against LGBTIQ people across employment, education, healthcare and day to day life.

These things might have helped improve the lives of queer people in a real way.

Actually Helping Queer People

They would not, however, promote a brand or a product.

Companies sponsor Mardi Gras and pay for flashy ad campaigns to show that they are “gay-friendly” as a way of attracting new customers. It’s also a two-faced PR strategy to distract from all the awful things they do.

It’s not just banks, we can thank companies like Absolut and Yak Brewing too! If you can look through all the glitter though, inviting booze companies to the party begins to look a bit dodgy.

Despite the tedious bravado of dude-bros and racist stereotypes levelled at Aboriginal people, gay and bi people are some of the heaviest drinkers. What Mardi Gras is selling to these businesses then, in exchange for sponsorship, is privileged access to the LGBTIQ community.

Then there’s Gilead, the American pharmaceutical company which manufactures pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP costs more than AUD $36,000 a year in the US, preventing thousands of queers and people of colour from accessing the medicine. Gilead is trying to block cheaper versions of PrEP to protect their revenue, but hey, they’re paying for the party.

You don’t need to look very hard at the sponsors to find pinkwashing. Woolworths underpaid 5700 workers in the last decade stealing at least $315 million in wages, while workers at Amazon warehouses describe working conditions as ‘a hellscape’.

But everyone deserves to be included, right? Especially corporations… and cops.

No Cops At Mardi Gras

Sure the NSW Police bashed attendees at the first Mardi Gras an ignored dozens of  anti-gay murders for decades.

And yes, more recently they left an Aboriginal woman to die in a police cell and abused police powers to invasively strip and search minors.

But they brought cupcakes! And besides, we have the gay and lesbian liaison officers. And at Mardi Gras 2020, they arrested three queer participants in the parade.

A recent report found that queerphobia is rife inside Victoria Police, with officers saying things like ‘all gays should be gassed in chambers’. A gay police officer killed himself after months of such abuse back in 2015.

We only need liaison officers in the first place because police forces are so homophobic and transphobic that we cannot safely interact with them.

Politicians Love Gays

What about political parties who march in the parade? The Liberal party opposed gay marriage, and destroyed Safe Schools, and is filled with career homophobes but they get a float… as a little treat.

Labor supports our problems (so long as they are electorally popular) so they can have one too. They both get to style themselves as modern, gay-friendly parties.

Nobody mention the offshore prison camps.

If these (predominantly straight) institutions truly support LGBTIQ struggles, wouldn’t they offer money and support without expecting favours in return? If their cooperation is contingent on getting something out of it, then they can’t be genuinely concerned about queer rights.

Corporations exist for the sole purpose of turning a profit. Police forces and political parties regularly persecute vulnerable communities. They want to join in the celebration because it’s useful to them, not because they care.

It’s not about us — they march in Mardi Gras because it’s about selling brands and diverting our attention from other issues.


Joshua Badge is a queer academic and writer based in Naarm (Melbourne). They tweet @JoshuaBadge.