Activist group Pride in Protest’s alternate Mardi Gras protest march will go ahead on Saturday night after NSW Health granted organisers a crowd exemption.
This Saturday’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade is a ticketed event at the Sydney Cricket Ground due to COVID-19.
That afternoon, Pride in Protest and other groups are planning their own political protest march along the usual Oxford Street route.
However NSW Police took the group to court to shut down the event, because the expected crowds exceeded permitted COVID-19 gathering limits.
But the group announced on Friday that NSW Health had granted the event an exemption. The group said they had agreed to better contact tracing processes for the march.
“This is a massive win for not only the right to protest, but for the queer community to say that the fight against transphobia and homophobia cannot wait,” the group said.
“Pride can not be denied. Black Lives Matter cannot be denied. Refugee rights cannot be denied. Homophobia, transphobia, and racism are social diseases and fighting them cannot wait.”
The group called on the NSW Government to lift the cap of 500 people at outdoor protests, arguing the limit was arbitrary and inconsistent.
NSW Police officers to ‘maintain public safety’ on Saturday night
On Friday, NSW Police confirmed officers would be out in force on Saturday across Oxford Street, Hyde Park and Moore Park to keep Mardi Gras events “safe and enjoyable”.
Assistant Commissioner Gelina Talbot said the focus “remains on maintaining public safety and security.”
“While we want everyone to enjoy their night, we also need to keep in mind we are still living in a pandemic and certain public health orders need to be adhered to,” she said.
“We encourage anyone who does not have a ticket to an event, or a reservation at a venue, to celebrate at home.
“If you are out and about, please practice social distancing.”
But Pride Protest spokesperson Toby Walmsley described the police’s presence as “onerous and unnecessary”.
“Pride in Protest does not support police presence during Mardi Gras and will not accept police as the arbiters of either our community, our communities’ health, or how we should fight for our rights,” Walmsley said.
He criticised the “continual problem” of “over-policing” of Mardi Gras, pointing to the violent arrests of Jamie Jackson and Brynn Hutchinson in 2013.
Mardi Gras responds to Pride in Protest Oxford Street march
At a hearing, NSW Supreme Court Justice Peter Garling said Pride in Protest had waited until the last minute to apply for the NSW Health exemption.
“Your clients were told during the course of the consultations with the police that they could, if they wish, apply for an exemption,” he said, according to AAP.
“They said they weren’t prepared to do it. They chose to do nothing about that until yesterday afternoon.”
Mardi Gras CEO Albert Kruger earlier told AAP they couldn’t support the march if it violated public health orders.
Kruger argued the parade remains a social justice event, and each float at SCG will get a 45-second spot to share their messages.
“We want to make sure whatever event we put on, we can safely do so and confidently say our patrons coming to this event will be safe,” he said.
Pride in Protest march against homophobic and transphobic legislation
Pride in Protest have criticised this year’s paid Mardi Gras parade as “not in the true spirit” of the event.
Since 2018 the group have called for a return to Mardi Gras’ roots as a political protest “fighting systems and structures maintaining injustice.”
As well as LGBTIQ rights, the group also support decriminalisation of sex work, legalisation of drug use refugee rights and oppose “over-policing” of Black communities and Indigenous deaths in custody.
Pride in Protest have also put forward contentious proposals to ban police from marching in the parade.
On Saturday, the group will march against One Nation MP Mark Latham’s transphobic NSW legislation as well as the federal Religious Discrimination Bill.
“The bills will make life even harder for LGBTQI people who’ve suffered during the pandemic and economic recession,” spokesperson Charlie Murphy said.
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