The organisers of this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras have been criticised by the original activists, the 78ers, for not “appreciating the pain and damage” suffered by the group.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the protest rally on June 24, 1978 that was marred by police violence and arrests but would be looked back on as a turning point for Australian LGBTI rights.
The rally would go on to become Sydney’s annual Mardi Gras celebration.
But some of those original activists have spoken out about concerns their activism isn’t being duly recognised this year.
One 78er, Franc Hancock, told the ABC about 100 of the original activists wanted to attend this year’s afterparty, but only 20 complimentary free party tickets had been allocated to them.
“Most of us are pensioners, and I thought seeing as they’ve celebrated our march, our fight, our struggle for 40 years and used our name, Mardi Gras, that they could give us a free ticket,” he said.
“The party is celebrating what we did, why shouldn’t we be there?”
Another 78er, Peter Murphy, said the relationship between the original activists and current organisers had improved but there was still work to be done.
“We feel like we’ve created something fabulous and lasting, it’s just that the people in charge now don’t quite appreciate us enough,” he told the ABC.
“People in the Mardi Gras board don’t appreciate the pain and the damage that was experienced.”
A Change.org petition calling for all 78ers to be given free entry to the afterparty and every event on the 2018 Mardi Gras festival calendar has received more than 1500 signatures.
“Quite simply, Mardi Gras would not exist without these brave people and they deserve better,” petitioner Sarah Strickland said.
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras co-chair Brandon Bear said “everything we’ve done was built on the back of the 78ers” but that the event was not just about them.
“We really wanted to find a balance in how we could work with the 78ers to make sure they were getting what they needed and a way to be respected and shown, but also paying respect to the fact there are other people in our history,” he told the ABC.
He said his preference would be to make more tickets available “but we really do have to draw a line.”
In a statement, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras said it provided support to the 78ers that included the annual provision of $10,000 towards the group’s float and dedicated parade viewing areas.
“An allocation of 20 complimentary party tickets is also offered each year to the 78ers, many of which have never been used,” organisers said, adding that an additional 80 tickets to the party discounted to $45.00 per ticket would also be available.
“Mardi Gras is also pleased to provide $5,000 towards 78ers experiencing financial hardship to help cover costs for travel across Australia to come to Mardi Gras for the 40th.
“We strive to celebrate the amazing community activists, leaders, creatives, staff and Boards, over four decades who have worked tirelessly for and within our community.”
In a blog post on her website, 78er Julie McCrossin defended the efforts of Mardi Gras organisers to recognise the 78ers in the parade and festival.
“Speaking for myself, I think the current Mardi Gras organisers are working hard to give due recognition to the very significant role of [the 78ers],” she said.
“We also need to recognise and celebrate the many demonstrators and activists who bravely took to the streets before and after 1978.
“Mardi Gras has grown and adapted for decades and the activists of the 60s, early 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s deserve equal gratitude in our 40th year for their courage, creativity and innovation.”
To learn more about the 78ers and Mardi Gras’ four-decade history, explore an interactive timeline here.
The 2018 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade will be held on Saturday, March 3.