Prejudice and violence directed against gay men, lesbians and other sexual groups have been viewed as ubiquitous and relatively fixed phenomena in contemporary societies. This perspective must be reconciled with the increased depiction of marginal sexualities and commercial ‘queering’ of mainstream media and popular culture. This paper presents and discusses data from two sources. Firstly, interviews conducted with self-identifying heterosexuals at the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) parade suggest attendance and participation can occur through a widely enjoyed public display and the temporary suspension of sexual prejudice in such specific carnivalesque occasions. Secondly, gay and lesbian responses to an internet-based questionnaire concerning perceptions and experiences of safety and hostility at this and similar other public events, suggest an undercurrent of threat and incivility, especially in the post-event context. These data sources are not directly compared but analysed in a complementary way to throw new light on how different groups view and experience this event. Our findings reflect how sexual prejudice is a shifting and contradictory collective social practice.
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Gay and lesbian neighbourhoods have often been perceived as safe though they can be deliberately targeted by people looking to commit hate crimes with the result that ‘…safety [is] the freedom to be openly gay, to challenge the norming of public space as straight, rather than freedom from violence.’ (Rushbrook 2002 p. 195).
With our deliberate targeting of heterosexually-identified people as interviewees, this was a much higher proportion of the overall sample than in the results of a study of attendance at a Brazilian gay event (Junge 2008 p. 122).
Our contacts included gay and lesbian event-based organisations such as Feast/SA, Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras/NSW, Pride/WA and Pride/Qld; papers and magazines such as Blaze/SA and LOTL/NSW; and dozens of online groups. Additional contact was made with relevant government agencies including Victoria Police and the NSW Attorney General’s Department.
Local reports of violence are available for five parades between 1996 and 2002. These recorded a total of 14 incidents occurring while people were watching or leaving the event, and 7 incidents while arriving at or leaving the post-parade party (NSW Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project Reports, 1996–2002).
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The research for this paper formed part of a larger study titled ‘Rethinking social intolerance: lessons from the suspension of homophobia at public gay and lesbian events’ funded by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Grant Program. Ethical clearance for the study was provided by the University of Newcastle Human Research Ethics Committee.
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Tomsen, S., Markwell, K. Violence, Cultural Display and the Suspension of Sexual Prejudice. Sexuality & Culture 13, 201–217 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-009-9054-1