Why cops don’t deserve a float at Mardi Gras

August 2014 was my first time going into custody. This was a result of my assaulting police and resisting their arrest as I often didn’t understand why I was being stopped and questioned. After numerous encounters much the same, it became clear I was being profiled and targeted as an Indigenous person and that NSW Police officers took joy in the sport of humiliating minorities from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Over my life, I have felt dehumanised by society due to my sexual orientation. Incarceration compounded and intensified that dehumanisation.

When I arrived at Silverwater Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre, I was told ‘you’re just a number here.’ Little did I know that this number, and being reduced to it, would stay with me for the rest of my life.

Prison is brutal and unforgiving. You no longer have a name, identity or culture, and if you are found out to be gay, further humiliation, sexual abuse and harassment are inevitable.

Aboriginal people in Australia are the world’s most incarcerated population. Since our nations were colonised, we have become just 3.3 per cent of people on this land, but we make up nearly a third of the adult prison population. Aboriginal people continue to be killed by the state or die in their custody, with 434 deaths since the 1991 Royal Commission into this crisis. No officer has ever been held criminally responsible for a single one of those 434 deaths.

This year, societies across the world have reflected deeply on what is important in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Here in Australia, more and more people have begun to understand the scourge of incarceration and police brutality against Aboriginal people.

As an Aboriginal person who’s been criminalised and incarcerated, I know firsthand the brutality of police. As a gay man, even hearing the words ‘police’ and ‘LGBTQI+ community’ in the same sentence evokes a physical discomfort in me as memories start to flood back.

The Bondi murders of gay men that police covered up. The Western Sydney cops who would go ‘poofter bashing’ for fun. The notorious undercover police squads that would target LGBTQI+ people at meetup places and their homes.

I believe that NSW Police, their associations and NSW Corrective Services should not march in uniforms and have a float at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras has extraordinary cultural significance for our community, and should always be a place of celebration, inclusion and pride. By continuing to allow the police to march as a float, the Mardi Gras board continues to stand by their record of racial violence. In allowing the police to march, Mardi Gras tells every Aboriginal family who’s had someone they love killed by a cop or died in their custody that it’s the police who they prefer to celebrate. Mardi Gras tells me, a gay Aboriginal man, that the parade isn’t for me.

As a member of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, I have prepared a motion for the upcoming Annual General Meeting asking the organisation to remove the police and corrective services floats from the Parade.

LGBTQIA+ people who work as police officers or correctional services should be able to march in their personal capacity and should be allowed to join any other community float. But celebrating the police force within our pride parade betrays the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who systems of policing and imprisonment disproportionately target. What do the police force have to feel proud about when more than ten Aboriginal people have been killed in custody since the last Mardi Gras parade?

I demand our humanity be recognised and that Mardi Gras overhaul their Police partnerships. If SGLMG continues to focus on capitalist and monetary interests, they will in time completely forget the true meaning of Mardi Gras. Which is that LGBTQIA + people deserve to live free from discrimination, humiliation and police violence.

I draw on the spirit of the 70s and 80s gay rights revolution and the strength of LGBT people in finally defying the NSW Police in 1978 and celebrating the very first Mardi Gras. Let us find the courage they mustered up back then.

Mardi Gras has a window of opportunity to stand with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people fighting for change, and in solidarity with Black communities across the world. If we don’t act now, we will continue to lose amazing souls before their time and slowly undo our own humanity.


Image: Wikimedia Commons

Keith Quayle

Keith Quayle is a Malyangapa/Barkindji gay man raised on Dharug country. He is currently on a Community Corrections Order, supervised by Community Corrections until August 2022. He is the founder of NSW Community Advocates for Prisoners and is currently on the Trans and Gender Diverse Criminal Justice System Advisory Council and the Prisoner Interagency Advocacy sub-committees. He is a member of Pride in Protest, SWOP and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Members Committee.

More by Keith Quayle ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays

Contribute to the conversation

  1. As long as it’s matched with a ban on organised religion, and a ban on the flags & symbols of anti lgbt countries, it’s a good move

  2. Police do not deserve recognition in the Mardi Gras or anywhere else in this country.
    If you were not aware of police brutality, everyone sure knows now in 2020 .
    Are they even working for Australia?

  3. total empathy & sympathy – cops seem to be a breed unto themselves – and i know from experience at marches what it sounds looks and feels like to be pushed and shoved by cops out to provoke – still gotta have them though – better ones in the future hopefully – if the old guard can be lain to rest – and peace rain its true rain

  4. I couldn’t agree more, power to you and all First Nations people and congratulations for having the guts to say out loud what too many people, myself included, have thought but not said

  5. Axalotyl – ‘anti LGBT countries’ are all occupied Countries, those known as ‘australia’ ‘usa’ ‘canada’ …. this is the very purpose of this article, to point that out.
    Thanks for writing this article Keith, i really appreciate it.

  6. The police have worked so hard promoting inclusivity and supporting the LGBTIQ community in recent years.

    Your article mentions the “poofter bashing” and the coverups of the deaths of gay men in the eastern suburbs that occurred many decades ago and in fact the police have officially apologised for. As for the murders, the police have reopened, investigated and even charged a person for those murders.

    The police have formally apologised for the incidents surrounding the 78rs and have a great relationship with this group now too.

    Those 3 points aren’t worthy of a mention now, are they? ?

  7. Well said! Cops are f…k ! Anyone who says otherwise is blind and or literally living in denial of their privilege … it always has been us and them and always will be in my opinion.. the pr bandwagon on behalf of them has to stop…

  8. I am sorry Keith, but I can find no actual argument in your article at all – that is (at the risk of sounding like a sketch from Monty Python) there are no set of premises from an objective viewpoint leading to a coherent conclusion. Surely pointless invective and the endless round of blame-gaming have to come to a stop somewhere. I am neither gay nor aboriginal, but I gain no insight into your position when it appears that you have no desire for rapprochemont or compromise with the police, or indeed it appears, anybody else for that matter. Bluster and rhetoric are not convincing strategms in what should be such an important debate.

    1. As the writer makes clear, LGBQTI+ police officers should be free to march in Mardi Gras in a personal, non-uniformed capacity. But the history and present of the police in Australia and in most other countries is still one of oppression of minorities. The whole purpose of policing is to protect and promote the interests of the most powerful in society and their only means of doing this is to arrest people and destroy their lives. Until you understand these basic facts about policing in capitalist societies, you’ll not understand why police forces are not welcomed by the poor and vulnerable in festivals such as Mardi Gras.

      1. Keith, without going into great detail, I am no stranger to Police brutality. I spent a good deal of the eighties (which were my twenties) in the gaols of various states. I used to joke that I was a political prisoner captured during the class struggle. I am sure that prospective Police cadets are not taught that their role is to protect or promote the interests of the wealthy and powerful, but I do know that my true moment of release was not when I walked out those prison doors for the last time, but when I finally abandoned chewing on those old ideological bones that blighted my youth. Brutality and willful ignorance are ugly and unhelpful no matter which side exhibits them, but it is impossible for understanding to proceed unless we abandon these old tropes for the useless wind that they are.

  9. Well said Wayne Eaton. Whilst Keith makes many valuable points, the lack of logic in other attempted points is evident. Among the many reasons cops SHOULD be represented include the presence of many gay cops who DO march and it is hardly likely they they are worthy of Keith’s over-generalized opinion in this regard. exchange of opinions is invaluable and I’m glad your views Keith have furthered this principle.

  10. I’m watching the movie Riot at the moment 100 percent no cops at Mardi Gras. Float or not.Do not deserve a float.

  11. Very vague argument. Having this article on DoHA website as the reason to ban cops from Pride is very disappointing and I feel very sorry for those who identify as LGBTQ and work as a cop who can’t be proud in their uniforms because of it. Theres no actual argument but more personal dislikes-sounding opinions and bias towards police. Reading this article does not make me want to support DoHA nor kicking out cops but wonder who you are going to eliminate next and when they are going to make real statement and structure instead of messing around with the float because they couldn’t get what they want.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *