Mardi Gras Is Charging For Next Year’s Parade, And People Aren’t Happy About It

"This is further corporatisation of Pride, and will push marginalised members of the LGTBQ community further away from the protests and 'celebration' that Pride used to be."

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Mardi Gras’ plans for a COVID-safe parade include charging attendees $20, and the queer community is not happy.

On Wednesday Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, a staple event in the queer community’s calendar, revealed their plans for a COVID-safe event in March next year. The usual array of large floats making their way down Oxford Street will be replaced by “outlandish pageantry of costumes, puppetry and props” at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Rather than a singular event taking place, a new vision for Mardi Gras includes “year-round initiatives to provide a platform for LGBTQI+ people, community groups and partners to celebrate, share experiences and provide support, no matter where they are”. Details on these initiatives are yet to come, however, these changes come after “comprehensive community consultation process to better understand how the LGBTQI+ community would like to see Mardi Gras represent them in the future”.

In a statement to Junkee, Mardi Gras has said “Mardi Gras is a non-for-profit organisation. The small ticket price (Adults $20, Group bookings of four $50, Children under 15 or concession $15) helps us cover the cost of operating this event under a COVID Safe Model. Mardi Gras members also receive 2 complimentary tickets to the Parade event. Our partner SBS will also broadcast the entire event live so people around Australia can enjoy the Parade at home with friends.”

It is unclear what the consultation process involved as there is a large amount of backlash directed at the decision to charge for entry. Mardi Gras’ decision stands in the face of the fact that members of the queer community are at higher risk of poverty, homelessness and financial hardship throughout their lives.

People are also concerned that this move will cement Mardi Gras’ — which started off in 1978 as a protest — loss of integrity. The original march was interrupted by the police who used violence to break it up. The 53 people who were arrested that night had their personal details published in the Sydney Morning Herald, subsequently losing jobs and housing. After that, Mardi Gras became a place where gay civil rights were fought for, and where awareness of AIDS and HIV was raised.

Over the past few years, Mardi Gras has come under fire for increased corporatisation of the event. Floats from corporations such as ANZ, Vodafone, L’oreal and Qantas have been commonplace. The latter of these, Qantas, has especially been criticised as a sponsor of Mardi Gras due to their role in assisting the Morrison government in deporting asylum seekers back to dangerous situations.

The presence of the police has also been a big point of contention, as it makes the event an unsafe space for a community that has historically been targeted by law enforcement. At this year’s event, protestors were arrested for standing up against the Liberal Party’s float.

Mardi Gras also confirmed to Junkee that the ticketing model for 2021 is a “once off”, and is “a direct result of the extra operational measures required to stage it safely during a global pandemic. There are no plans to continue with a ticketed model outside of the 2021 Parade.”