Is Sydney Mardi Gras Going Through Ex-Gay Therapy?

Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney—perhaps the largest and most infamous celebration in the world—has renamed itself “Sydney Mardi Gras,” as part of an effort to appeal to a larger, non-queer audience.

”We fought for this day, the day we could embrace the wider community and be inclusive,” Mardi Gras chairman Peter Urmson told the Sydney Morning Herald at a launch event Thursday. ”I think that whilst we are first and foremost a GLBTQI community organisation, we also are very open to all of our friends that do not necessarily identify within that alphabet soup.”

In addition to the name change, Sydney Mardi Gras producers introduced a sleek (and sexless) new logo and announced the talent for Mardi Gras 2012 on March 3—RuPaul, the Dame Edna Experience and dance duo Sneaky Sound System.

The parade, which began in 1978 as a gay-rights march where dozens were arrested, has transformed over the years into an internationally famous party that pumps $30 million into the New South Wales economy and draws more than 70,000 participants and spectators of all persuasions.

But Greg Logan, the head the advertising agency that created the event’s new ”infinite love” logo, says a gay-specific event doesn’t hold any appeal for younger LGBTs. ”The new generation of kids don’t have the same prejudices previous generations do. If you’re gay or lesbian at school, you’re out, your straight friends don’t care, and you go out together.”

Gee, someone oughta tell biblical-marriage proponent Prime Minister Julia Gillard how chill Aussies are about gays.

Not all Aussies are happy about the rebranding, including former Mardi Gras president Richard Cobden, who says  the group didn’t have the authority to make such a change: “Peter Urmson says ‘this is our gift to the city’. It was not his to give… For 20-plus years we have been able to force the mainstream media to call it the ‘Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.’ They had to say the words. For a long time they did not want to but we made them. That has been thrown away.”

A promotional video has been created to get people on board with Mardi Gras’ new identity. Notice that, despite recounting the parade’s history and future, the narrator doesn’t say the words “gay” or “lesbian” once. Funny that, eh?


Images via Christianocious , Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras



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  • Mike in Asheville

    Don’t you guys have spell check? It is Sydney, not Syndey.

    Second, Sydney Mardi Gras has over 300,000 parade watchers, plus 70,000 fair attendees. The parade participants are over 9,000. Much bigger than the 70,000 you quote.


    All of the major gay/lesbian pride events in the United States — New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago — have long ago dropped “gay and lesbian” from their names. They all go by the name of the city + Pride (though LA also uses Christopher Street West).

    A good debate: promote the uniqueness that is gay+lesbian+b+t pride as its own community OR become part of the general community accepting of g+l+b+t within the general community ?

    I don’t think that there is a right or wrong answer; just what was started as a grass-roots effort to bring awareness and fun to the glbt community has succeeded in so many ways that they now face this new horizon to see what is the best way forward.

    I sure hope to get to Sydney Mardi Gras one time!

  • Conrad

    I appreciate what Mike in Asheville is saying, but I also think Sydney should at least hold onto and acknowledge its roots/struggles.

    Kudos to all the gays in my generation who don’t get beat up in schools across Australia.

  • Jeff

    It’s still going to be an event with lots of LGBT people in attendance even if they did take out the G&L in the name of the event when it should have been called LGBT instead of just G&L.

  • Phil

    It’s strange to me that Richard Cobden still wishes to exert control over the event even though he’s the former president. You left your legacy to the younger generation; you can only hope that they at least don’t fuck it up.

  • stevoj

    ”The new generation of kids don’t have the same prejudices previous generations do. If you’re gay or lesbian at school, you’re out, your straight friends don’t care, and you go out together.”

    sure Greg… all prejudice toward gays is gone so we all should just fly down under and stimulate the economy

  • Miguelito

    The narrator actually says the word “gay”, min 2:00, and being true she doesn’t say “lesbian”, she says “butch or femme” some seconds later. Plus, the gay words show up constantly on the video.. oh well.

  • jason

    Prejudice never disappears. As for the notion that the new generation of kids don’t have the same prejudices as previous generations, what a joke. Why, then, have there been so many articles on bullying of gay kids in schools in recent times?

    As for the name change, I think they should get rid of the L for lesbian. Just call it the Gay Mardi Gras. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that it was designed to promote gay rights.

  • Panache

    As someone who identifies as queer, I think you’re way off mark with this. The umbrella terms ‘gay and lesbian’ have long excluded many, many of the people who support, fund, populate and create Mardi Gras. I, for one, am very happy with the name change, and have faith that the event, and the organisation, will remain as committed to LGBTQI rights and culture as ever.

    And, to answer the fear that Mardi Gras has now forgotten about its roots, is ignoring gay rights and is shying away from being seen as ‘too gay’ … take a look at the program on the Mardi Gras website, people!! As queer/gay/fabulous as ever!!!

    Calm down, everyone. Let’s see if the proof is in the pudding – if this year’s Festival is beige, straight-dominated and avoids any overt references to LGBTQI cultures, then, OK, I’ll eat my words and join the ranks of the current carpers. Let’s just take a deep breath and see … maybe their worst fears are unfounded.

  • Mark

    @stevoj: What a fucked up thing for him to suggest that gay kids are totally and fully accepted as they indeed do continue to get beat up and kill themselves in every country.

  • lemon-lime

    Having been to Mardi Gras in Sydney along with numerous pride events in the US, I’d say there’s nothing to worry about here. Sydney Mardi Gras does gay and in your face better than any pride event I’ve ever been to, and the truth of the matter is that Mardi Gras is seen as an event for everyone to participate in. I support the name change as a natural progression from recognition to integration.

    We demanded to be noticed. We were noticed.

    Now we are ready to let the rest of the world join in the fun with us.

  • lemon-lime

    @Mark: “Don’t have the same” is not the same as “don’t exist”. Nobody tried to say the prejudices are gone. They are trying to say that the prejudices have changed. Now it’s not about gays having only gay friends vs. the bullies, it’s about gays and their straight allies vs. the bullies. This is my experience as part of the so-called younger generation being referenced.

  • lemon-lime

    @stevoj: You’re saying something completely different from what the quote says.

  • Peacock214

    I’m indifferent on the name change, but even with the 370,000 figure that Mike referenced, that hardly qualifies as the “largest and most infamous celebration in the world”. Especially if an attendance of that size only has a $30 million impact on the local economy.

    I can think of two off of the top of my head that occur in my hometown that far surpass these figures (the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the massive Mardi Gras celebration that has been occurring in New Orleans since 1699).

  • steve

    As someone who has friends on the board of Mardi Gras I can assure you that appealing to the mass crowd is much more important then ‘acknowledging’ the struggles of the past by including certain words in the title…

    Despite being a major cash cow for the NSW economy and giving massive business to the establishments along the stip on the night, for many years the Event has struggled not to operate at a loss. The funding from Sydney council is a joke and as far as the infamous after party is concerned, the only winners of that night are the venue where it’s held and the third party company that takes ALL profits from the drinks sold at the night. There are alot of changes coming for next years Mardi Gras and there are long overdue if the event is to continue for the next generation.

    That is all..

  • JS

    The $30 million mentioned is actually the estimated figure that interstate and overseas guests bring to the NSW state economy – not a total overall.

    Steve – the organisation of NMG (now SGLMG) WERE making great profits – without state funding (which it now recieves) just a few years ago. They now have actually more City of Sydney funding than they did 3 years ago as their office is in a COS subsadised building.
    It is only the last two years that they have been operating at a loss. You can only blame this loss on total mismanagement by the board and the CEO. Neither have any idea what they’re doing.

    As someone of the next generation you refer to, it is not more important to appeal to the mass crowd. Appealing to the mass crowd happens anyway on any day ending with a ‘y’.

    Plus, the next generation doesn’t want to go to the party because it’s all house music for the 30+. It sounds the same every year. There are dozens of other major parties after the parade that provide a better experience for someone under 30.

  • jason

    Sydney thinks it’s the best in the world but the fact is there are far better celebrations throughout the world. Australians are good at bragging but most of us know better.

    As for the concept of profit, why on earth are the Mardi Gras organizers aiming for a profit? For fucks sake, it’s not supposed to be a commercial enterprise. Gay rights is not supposed to be a commercial enterprise. Stop thinking of everything in terms of dollars and cents and donate your fucking services instead of asking for fucking payment.

    As for moving on, what’s there to move on from? Sydney gays still don’t have either marriage or civil union rights. In fact, Sydney and Australia in general are very much behind the rest of the English-speaking world in terms of same-sex marriage rights.

    Perhaps the real problem is that Australia’s gays lack an activist heart. They’re epic fails when it comes to fighting for their rights. They seem to lack courage and conviction.

  • steve


    I think you’ve got your facts wrong. Sydney Mardi Gras had not been making any decent profit for a very long time, it’s at a point where they are against the wall financially. Namely because under previous management and direction it’s goal was never to make profit and of course allowing everyone to get rich from the event except for the event itself.

    The new CEO is correct when he says that attitudes have changed. The younger people don’t see Mardi Gras as a chance to celebrate their pride since they are already doing so every other weekend. Let’s not forget when the Mardi Gras first began, there were still states that basically outlawed the ‘practice’ of homosexuality.

    As for the after party, well there were surveys done and the majority of goers want bigger headline acts and more live performances. That’s including both young and old attendees which I have to agree with, there’s no point paying $150 to go to an over size disco..

  • steve


    You sir, clearly have no idea what you’re talking about. It may be a shock for you to know that many on the board of Mardi Gras don’t get paid and all the people working on the night are actually volunteers. So there is alot of “donate your fucking services instead of asking for fucking payment” going on already.

    Perhaps you may want to direct your suggestion to musical acts both local and international as well as Australia’s Fox Studios and alcohol companies. Instead of venting your disgust at intentions of organizers to find a means of paying the massive bill that Mardi Gras drums up each year.

    Also Britain and many states in America also don’t have same sex marriage. Australia has changed laws, ensuring civil partnership rights. So who are you to single out Australia as being “very much behind the rest of the English-speaking world”??

    As for your lacking courage and conviction comment.. there are Sydney based marches planned for December. Perhaps Australian gays like to be a bit more prepared and proactive in their campaigning. What would you have suggested? “Occupy Oxford st” perhaps?
    You have no idea what you are on about and sound foolish in the making of…

  • Wolfsbane McDogstail

    Aint Nooooo such a thing as straight “allay”!

Comments are closed.