Amazing scenes have played out on Sydney’s streets today as around 500 rallied in support of trans rights, defying the New South Wales government’s attempt to ban protests. Protesters poured out of bars and side streets to assemble at Taylor Square, on the border of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills, before rushing past police lines, taking over Oxford Street and marching to Hyde Park and around the Sydney CBD.
It was a massive middle finger to One Nation state leader Mark Latham and his attempts to erase any mention of trans or gender diverse people from schools. It was also a slap to the New South Wales government, the police and the Supreme Court, which on Friday ruled in favour of the protest ban. About a dozen protesters were arrested and fined, police following their recent pattern of targeting protest organisers and leaders.
Co-convener of Community Action for Rainbow Rights and member of Socialist Alternative, April Holcombe, who fronted the Supreme Court on Friday, said:
“The case yesterday proved what a farce the government’s protest ban is. While they open up the footy, bars and beaches to thousands, they single out our rallies and declare them unsafe, despite having to admit there have been zero cases of COVID spread at rallies. Today we demonstrated that nothing will stop us standing up for LGBTI rights and all the other causes we are fighting for, from Black Lives Matter to stopping uni cuts and climate destruction.”
Holcombe was detained and fined $1,000 for protesting.
Officers repeatedly tried to block protesters and aggressively shove them off the streets, causing a number of minor injuries. But the protesters kept moving and managed to outrun and outflank the police on a number of occasions. At one point, police kettled a group of 100 demonstrators and arrested anyone with a megaphone or deemed to be an organiser. This highlights the incredibly political and repressive nature of the protest ban and how police are making the most of it to try to crush dissent and persecute the left. But the protesters managed to break through the kettle.
Eleanor Morley, from the Restore the Right to Protest - Democracy is Essential campaign, was also arrested and fined $1,000 at the protest today. “Protests are how all our rights have been fought for and defended”, she said. “Yesterday the judge tried to say we could just write to our politicians instead, but that is laughable. The politicians don’t listen to reason, they only listen to their big business backers. We only get change when we build mass movements that force the issue. That’s what we did today.
“It is outrageous that on the same day the government announces that it is lifting the limits on spectators at horse racing carnivals to make way for the gambling industry, they continue to arrest and fine people for protesting. We demand that protests be exempted from the public health orders to restore our democratic right to protest.”
In defying police repression to march down Oxford Street and stand up for LGBTI rights, protesters stood in the proud tradition of the first Mardi Gras in 1978. On that day, the police attacked and brutally bashed protesters. But people also fought back, inspiring a generation to fight for gay liberation in Australia.
Today’s protest shows that, despite the degeneration of Mardi Gras into an apolitical corporate affair which even features nauseating pink-washing floats of the police, the latter remain a force for homophobic and transphobic oppression. But, like 1978, today might also inspire hundreds and hundreds to escalate the fight for liberation on every front.