Activists angered by Mardi Gras board’s backflip decision

Activists angered by Mardi Gras board’s backflip decision
Image: Participants in the 45th Anniversary Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade in Oxford Street, 2023. Mark Baker, AAP


The backflip decision to allow police to march out of uniform in Mardi Gras has angered activists in the wake of an ongoing murder investigation.

After Senior Constable Beau Lamarre was charged with the murders of Jesse Baird and Luke Davies, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) board asked NSW Police not to march in the parade for the first time since 1998.

In a statement on Wednesday, Commissioner Karen Webb said police had reached an agreement with the board to march in plain clothes.

“I am delighted that our LGBTQIA+ officers, as well as our other police who are allies and supporters, will be allowed to march this year as they have done for the past 20 years,” she said.

But some activist groups claim that the decision came from police pressure, and that the move is a betrayal to the community.

Pride in Protest said, “NSW Police have spent the last few days embarking on a brutal media pressure campaign, undermining the queer community’s calls for police accountability and withdrawal from the parade.”

“Whether in uniform or not, police participation in the Mardi Gras parade is unacceptable,” they asserted in reference to a longstanding history of violence and hostility towards the queer community.

The activist group said they are “horrified and outraged” at the board’s backflip decision, saying they have “cracked under police pressure and is prioritising appeasing the state government and the police commissioner over the safety and wishes of the queer community.”

Greens Councillor Liz Atkins told City Hub the decision was “really disappointing” and “not a compromise, as it’s been described.”

“NSW Police are still marching as an institution, even if they’re not in uniform,” they said. “LGBTQI cops are part of the community like the rest of us. But take part with their community, not as part of the institution of NSW Police.”

Cr Atkins said the police were also “privileged” to be invited every year where many community boards have to apply and don’t always get in.

“They should be demonstrating real change before they get invited again,” they said.

Calls for police accountability 

In the lead up to Mardi Gras uninviting police from marching in the parade, Commissioner Webb said it would be a “travesty” if police were excluded.

Premier Chris Minns similarly defended the presence of police, saying “yanking their invitation…would be a regressive step.”

Openly gay Sydney MP Alex Greenwich also expressed his support for police marching in the parade, despite the community hurting.

“Now, there is certainly a great deal of work that police need to do to improve trust and improve community safety, but I think that starts with working together, not excluding the police from Mardi Gras,” he said.

But it has not been lost on the community that NSW Police have still neglected to take action on implementing any of the recommendations from an inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes.

There has also been little accountability for treatment of First Nations people, over 560 of whom have been killed in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission.

The accused murderer marched in a Mardi Gras parade only months before a video went viral of him repeatedly tasering an Indigenous man in the head.

Learning these events caused ’78er Barbara Karpinski to change her mind about police presence in this year’s Mardi Gras.

In an open letter, Ms Karpinski wrote, “I have changed my position due to my lived experience and I believe recovery is needed as we are now all experiencing vicarious trauma and there are many stages of healing.”

Written prior to the Mardi Gras board’s decision to disinvite the police, Ms Karpinski implored that police not attend.

“This Mardi Gras, police, please leave us to mourn without reminders,” she wrote.

“Clearly the accused was a ‘bad egg’ but there were so many red flags that were ignored, especially after the tasering of the indigenous victim by the accused.”

The Greens similarly called for the police force to exclude itself “as a sign of respect, deference, and commitment to change.”

Greens spokesperson for LGBTQIA+ Dr Amanda Cohn MLC said, “Marching at Mardi Gras won’t erase decades of systemic violence or patch the wounds still open today.”

“We want to see the NSW Police use this year to commit to the transformative change that LGBTIQA+ communities need, including by implementing the recommendations of the Special Commission of Inquiry.”

An independent investigation is needed

Despite NSW Police agreeing to launch an investigation into firearm access, following the revelation that Lamarre used a state-issued gun, calls are mounting for the investigation to be completely independent.

The current system for investigating NSW Police officer misconduct is inadequate, said Lydia Shelly, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL), in an open letter to the Premier, Attorney General, Police Minister and Police Commissioner.

“Most investigations are by NSW Police themselves,” she wrote. “How can the community have confidence in NSW Police when they investigate themselves?”

“Enough is enough,” she said. “Our organisations call on the government to immediately launch an independent inquiry into police use of force and weapons.”

“This is urgent. No one should die at the hands of NSW Police Officers, whether on or off-duty.”

The letter is a united call from NSWCCL with the First Mardi Gras Inc., Redfern Legal Centre, National Justice Project, Inner City Legal Centre, Human Rights Law Centre and Community Legal Centres NSW.


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