The secret union history of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Published: 23/06/2022
Category: Human Rights
Published: 23/06/2022
Category: Human Rights

Pride in protest

When the police formed their barrier along Oxford Street in Sydney, it was far from the first time gay rights activists had faced police violence. 

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The 1978 Mardi Gras march had kicked off with singing and dancing, but the police quickly surrounded the protesters and then closed in.  

Many protesters were bashed and 53 were arrested.  

When we strip away the rainbow logos and the corporate co-opting we see now during pride month, we can appreciate the first Mardi Gras for what it was: an act of protest. 

Queer rights are union business

Union members were there at that first Mardi Gras. They were also there after the arrests to defend the arrestees.  

And union members are here now. While some conservative politicians may like to think that bigotry towards LGBTQIA+ people is all in the past, workers in unions know that’s far from true.  

Unions believe in dignity and equality for all, at work and in the community. Discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people outside the workplace is as unacceptable as discrimination in the workplace. 

This history of solidarity with Australia’s LGBTQIA+ community led to the powerful union campaign for same-sex marriage in the lead up to the plebiscite in 2017. 

Union members did what we do best: organise. We set up door knocks, phone banks and street stalls. Union members conducted enrolment drives to ensure participation numbers in the plebiscite were as high as possible.  

The grassroots efforts in and out of workplaces around the country cumulated into a result that was overwhelmingly in favour of equality.  

Since same-sex marriage was achieved, union members have made sure progress has continued for LGBTQIA+ workers.  

Just last week, the Victorian and Tasmanian branch of the Independent Education Union celebrated the implementation of law that will prevent Victorian schools and religious organisations from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexuality, gender identity or marital status. 

That’s just one of many ways where workers in unions are coming together to make positive change.  

Your union is with you all the way

For union members, pride month is about rejecting corporate pink-washing and recognising that queerphobia does not always present itself in the form of overt exclusion or abuse.  

It’s about sticking up for each other and using our collective power to build genuinely queer-friendly workplaces. And that means taking action every day, not just 30 days a year.

Sometimes taking action can be taking to the street en masse. But it can also be laying the groundwork in our own workplaces – whether that be respecting pronouns or working to introduce gender affirmation leave.  

As union members, our actions are never for the advancement of the individual alone. That’s why we act to benefit everyone.

We work for rights and respect, not just rainbows

The secret union history of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

The secret union history of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras