Calls to Ban NSW Police From Participating in Mardi Gras

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Pride in protest on invasion day

A coalition of LGBTIQ groups, community members and supporters released an open letter on 21 October calling on the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to reconsider the participation of NSW police and Corrective Services NSW, as a sign of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The letter notes that the recent upsurge in Black Lives Matter has shone a light on police brutality towards First Nations peoples and ongoing deaths in custody. And it also acknowledges that other communities of colour are subjected to prejudicial overpolicing.

Cops at Taylor Square Rainbow Crossing
Cops at Taylor Square Rainbow Crossing

In taking this stand, the letter authors further outline that LGBTIQ communities and Mardi Gras itself have been targeted with homophobic and transphobic police violence.

Not only did NSW police attack the first Mardi Gras parade in 1978, but in 2013, police actions at the event were so excessive that the show of force received widespread condemnation.

And in taking all of this into consideration, those undersigning the open letter assert that as Mardi Gras festival participants, they don’t want the event to be seen as promoting the activities of the NSW Police Force or Corrective Services NSW.

Heavy-handed policing at the Protect Trans Kids march
Heavy-handed policing at the Protect Trans Kids march

Police targets

“Black Lives Matter has pushed to the forefront the degree to which police violence disproportionately affects Aboriginal people in this country, and all people of colour,” said Dani Cotton, a member of Pride in Protest, the group that initiated the letter.

“But we’ve also seen it disproportionately impact queer people, and in particular, trans people,” they continued. “At the rally about Latham’s transphobic bill a couple of weeks ago, the police violently attacked, broke someone’s arm, intimidated and arrested people.”

Despite a court order banning the event, the Protect Trans Kids rally took place on 10 October. The initial gathering at Taylor Square was peaceful. However, police then tried to shut it down, provoking protesters to march into Sydney’s CBD, where they were met by a show of excessive police force.

“Queerphobic and transphobic violence is something that also comes from the police,” Cotton told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “So, there’s solidarity between these different groups.”

Heavy-handed policing at the Protect Trans Kids march
Dani Cotton at the Black Lives Matter rally

No pride in genocide

Both NSW police and Corrective Services NSW regularly have floats in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, which feature uniformed officers and guards. And progressive groups, like Pride in Protest, have long been calling out the inclusion of these institutions in the event.

The letter authors state that while understanding their request may “put Mardi Gras in a difficult position”, they feel an event such as it should not be promoting NSW police branding. And nor should the festival include institutions that propagate prejudicial violence and repression.

“Uniformed police should not be marching in Mardi Gras. They should not be given a special police contingent, and there should not be a corrective services contingent either,” Cotton concluded.

“It should be a community march, with people marching in solidarity for queer rights. That’s how Mardi Gras started.”

The open letter can be signed up until the 5 November, when it will be presented to the Mardi Gras board.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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