Mardi Gras and the politics of inclusion

Late last week I got a letter from a group of Mardi Gras volunteers titled “SYDNEY GAY AND LESBIAN MARDI GRAS IS UNDER THREAT AND NEEDS YOUR HELP”.

The letter refers to motions being put by the group Pride in Protest at the next general meeting. The motions are quite varied, but include statements that condemns police violence, calls on the Government to end all Aboriginal deaths in custody and calls on the Government to end the human rights abuses on Manus and Nauru. There has also been significant debate about moves to ban the police and the Liberal Party from the parade, acknowledging the violence both organisations continue to inflict on both queer, but also other minority communities. Pride in Protest also wants to limit the role of corporations in the parade.

Obviously I’m actually really pro these motions, and I’ve managed to get a proxy vote for the meeting to vote yes on them. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the arguments opposing them, particularly the ones presented in this letter.

There are two core attacks — first that the motions undermine the inclusive nature of the parade, and second that they threaten the financial stability of the parade. I want to focus on the first one. Opponents to these motions have argued that Mardi Gras is an inclusive organistion and event and that through taking specifically political stances we are excluding those who take other views. More specifically they argue that through banning the police, corporate floats or the Liberal Party we are actually exluding members of the LGBTIQ community from the event. As the letter argues “but these are members of our community and who are we to discriminate against others?”

To me this really highlights how vacuous a term “inclusion” has become. Yes, inclusion, particularly at an event like Mardi Gras, is a good idea. However, in moments like this it seems to be a term that is being used to cover over the politics of the organisation, and in turn the politics of inclusion itself.

Inclusion, particularly capitalist society in which many people still face violence and discrimination at the hands of capital and the state, is inherently political. Events such as Mardi Gras are always making decisions, implicitly and explicitly, about who to include and who not to include. In this case, the signatories of this letter, have argued that inclusion of the police, corporate sponsors and the Liberal Party, is more important than inclusion of the communities they incarcarate, send broke, lock up in prison islands etc etc. They’ve argued that gaining corporate sponsorship, and in turn having the money to run large and expensive parties, is more important than focusing on events that include poorer members of society.

And that’s fine, as long as you acknowledge the political reality of that decision. These decisions are inherently about the politics of the event, politics that in my opinion have become increasingly conservative in their approach. What’s frustrating is that the signatories of this letter are trying to frame this outside of politics, as if ‘inclusion’ is somehow a neutral idea that only needs to be achieved negatively. We include through not having rules against particular groups, not through dealing with the complex politics of how the inclusion of some actually works to exclude others. In doing so they remove all meaning to the term ‘inclusion’, making it completely useless.

I have voted for these motions, not because I necessarily believe Pride always has to be a protest. In fact I do value the party element of the event as a space for celebration of how far we’ve come. I’ve voted for them because I think we should be engaging in a discussion about who this event should be for, and who it shouldn’t. I have chosen those who continue to face violence and oppression rather than the perpetrators of such oppression. I hope others do too.

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