The Midsumma LGBTIQ festival in Melbourne is consulting members and stakeholders after a fierce backlash over its partnership with News Corp.

The sponsorship, which is in its second year, is essentially a contra deal, in which the festival is given free advertising and editorial opportunities in return for listing News Corp as a gold sponsor. But in a year when News Corp’s papers have devoted much antagonistic coverage to the Safe Schools anti-bullying program and some columnists have railed against the “rainbow agenda”, the sponsorship has come under intense scrutiny. Many regular attendees and heads of queer organisations have publicly stated their disapproval of the deal. Two weeks ago, Midsumma’s new CEO Karen Bryant was grilled about the deal on Joy FM. Host David “Macca” McCarthy told her:

“I don’t understand how a GLBTI community organisation can accept sponsorship from a company that regularly and methodically publishes homophobic cartoons. I don’t get it … These people are marginalising us, insulting us, and contributing to our level of mental illness, and it’s not good enough.”

Bryant said in the interview that the point of such sponsorship was very much about “getting the word out”. “Because we’re very much about developing the work of young, emerging and expanding artists, we want to expand audiences. We want to shine the light on their work as broadly as possible — that means having a range of partners.”

Midsumma addressed the growing outrage again yesterday, saying it would continue consultations with internal and external stakeholders about the sponsorship this week.

[How The Australian made Safe Schools a target]

Bryant said in a statement: “The partnership at this time is certainly under review, and does not affect whether Midsumma Festival continues as a key organisation delivering a significant cultural platform for LGBTQIA+ communities in Victoria.”

The statement said that Midsumma shared concerns “regarding editorial and opinion pieces published by News Corp that have inflamed the discrimination we face, such as the Safe Schools program”.

On Friday, Aleph Melbourne, a social support advocacy group for queer people in the Jewish community, announced it was withdrawing its attendance from the Pride March — a key part of the Midsumma festival (Aleph has participated for two decades). Asked why this was, co-convener Michael Barnett told Crikey that between the columns of Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt and Rita Panahi, and the cartoons of Bill Leak, intolerance towards the queer community was prevalent in News Corp’s publications. “This is pervasive through their organisation, and these people are paid by News Corp to pump out this intolerance,” he said. “Any organisation with a reasonable set of values would see this as distinctly unacceptable.”

“For 20 years we’ve flown the flag of Aleph Melbourne at Pride March. But at this stage, I don’t think I could be proud to associate with it.”

The issue remains highly charged. Midsumma chair John Caldwell, an entertainment reporter at KIIS, said in a Facebook post that while the organisation was consulting over the issue, he was “gobsmacked at the nasty bullying and hate campaign lodged against myself and my board from some members of the very community we volunteer so much time to help”.

“We are talking to a number of other LGBTQI+ organisations to have a unified approach and we will do what’s best for our communities. I have never seen such vile attacks from people claiming to want equality and to stop bullying.”

Peter Fray

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