Is the Wickham Hotel, Big Gay Day exploiting LGBT charities?


Big Gay Day

Big Gay Day, an event held each year at the Wickham Hotel, heavily promotes itself as a charity fundraiser. However, some accuse the Wickham Hotel of misleading patrons about the amount of money it gives to LGBT charities.

This year the donation to community organisations amounts to only a small fraction of the money donated in the past.

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Big Gay Day boasts on social media that their 2015 event was the “most popular BGD to date.” Despite that, only $4,00o is promised to nominated LGBT community groups this year. Normally the combined community donations total $25,000 – $35,000.

Coles/Wesfarmers, which last year made a net profit of $2.44 billion, owns and operates the Wickham Hotel.  Big Gay Day told QNews ahead of the 2015 event that it “will continue its commitment to contributing 25 percent of the event’s profits to the collective causes of nominated community charities.”

25% of profits, not ticket sales as before

However, prior to 2015, the day donated 25% of ticket sales, not 25% of the profits, a difference that Big Gay Day co-founder Kyle Hogan describes as misleading and “unethical”.

“I think that they have taken advantage of this goodwill and have misled people to think that it was going to be the same as it was before. And that’s unethical.”

Earlier this month, Coles/Big Gay Day took to Facebook to say they made no changes to charity commitments.

“Our donation amount hasn’t altered (25% of all profits)… the amount we donate hasn’t changed since the first-ever Big Gay Day,” the event’s organisers posted.

In actual fact, the first two Big Gay Day events gave 100% of the door takings to charity. After that, in every year until 2015, they donated 25% of the door.

QNews contacted the GM of the Wickham Hotel

QNews asked Jedd Rifai for clarification about Big Gay Day’s dramatic drop in charitable support of the local LGBT community. We also asked if Big Gay Day still considered itself a community fundraiser for the LGBT community.

Mr Rifai declined to respond to any questions.  However, a Melbourne-based media manager for Coles sent the following statement to QNews.

“The Wickham has been proud to host the Big Gay Day for the past 16 years, providing a great day of entertainment and fun for Brisbane’s LGBTI community.

“Over that period, the Wickham has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to LGBTI-related causes who have partnered with the Big Gay Day.

“In previous years, these donations were funded as a proportion of door sales. However, the high running costs of an event featuring international headline artists meant that the hotel actually made a significant loss on the BGD every year.

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“So that we can continue to host this important event, in 2015 we moved to fund charitable donations out of profit rather than sales.

“While the 2015 Big Gay Day also recorded a loss, as a goodwill gesture we donated $4000 to our charity partners following the event.”

Kyle Hogan, former Wickham manager

Kyle Hogan denies claims that Big Gay Day never made a profit. He described the claim as “totally false”.

Mr. Hogan, who ran Big Gay Day for six years, told QNews that for the first few years entry was a gold coin donation. In the years after that,  the events made substantial profits.

“During the last two years of my involvement, the event made substantial profits. I prepared a budget and adhered to it as much as possible. I budgeted the day to make my yearly salary in profit. Which was in excess of $70,000 at the time.”

Coles is unlikely to publicly reveal how much money it made from bar sales at the 2015 Big Gay Day. However, Mr Hogan says he is bewildered that it potentially made a loss.

“I can’t see how an event that takes in excess of $300,000 (gate and bar takings) can make a loss.”

If Big Gay Day never makes a profit, then the decision to change the charitable contribution from 25% of the gate to 25% of the profits means the event could potentially return not a single cent to charity, despite the promotion of it as a charity event.

 Community Groups

Three of the four community groups involved in the 2015 Big Gay Day contacted QNews regarding this issue. All made the point that they are grateful to receive any financial support. However, none are simply passive recipients of funds.

Each year, Big Gay Day relies on volunteers from the community groups. Those volunteers donate hundreds of hours to working at the event, which saves the organisers employing additional paid staff.

One community group estimates that it volunteered approximately 80-90 hours of work setting up the event over two days. That included six volunteers working on the door throughout the day. That organisation received a donation of $1000.

At the time of publishing, Big Gay Day has not yet nominated the community groups to benefit this year. However, organisers announced that they plan to retain their 2015 commitment of donating.

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