It's Mardis Gras and Carnival time in the Americas but not to be outdone, Sydney has it's own very special event. On Saturday, it's the Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras! Oooh yeah baby!
This annual event has been going for a long time and has grown from a local gay pride event in Sydney's Oxford street red light and gay district to the most spectacular gay and lesbian event in the world. (I'm so proud!) Just recently Conde Nast listed it amongst the 10 most spectacular costume events, right up there with the Venice Festival and Rio Carnivale . . .except most of them are straight. It's the 30th year and promising to be one of the biggest yet.There has been, as always, a month of high quality arts, sporting and social events culminating in the world famous parade!
This year's theme, Brave New Worlds, reflects on the progress made for gays and lesbians over the past three decades and the continued work of advocates for homosexual rights.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a four-week long festival for the gay and lesbian community held in Sydney during February/March. The festival eventuated from a protest march on June 24th, 1978 in commemoration of the riots in Stonewell, New York City. The event was held again the following year, where it was named the "Sydney Gay Mardi Gras."
It was in 1980 the post-parade dance party was established and in 1988 the parade was renamed the "Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras." The parade features proud members of the gay community adorned with flamboyant costumes, dance music and art. The Mardi Gras features floats and 6,000 marchers and is watched by over 300,000 people reflecting an ever-growing tolerance and acceptance of the gay and lesbian community in Sydney.
While the general tone of the event is one of fun and pride, the Mardi Gras has always maintained a somewhat political edge with humourous visual commentary adorning the floats pointedly directed at specific political parties and opponents. And it's not just a queer little parade, it brings in around 38 million tourist dollars and Sydney is the proud host of the largest gay and lesbian festival in the world. (oh dear!) Have to say tho, it is fun!Once the preserve of drag queens and flamboyant gays, it's spread it's branches and members want Mardi Gras to increase involvement with other community organisations. Whilst some are concerned that Mardi Gras has sold out and gone for the lucrative dollar and in so doing, abandoned community cultural development others just relish in the fun.
According to the organisers: "Events such as Mardi Gras create a powerful statement to the gay and lesbian community, a statement of solidarity, of brazenness, of strength, of bargaining power, of coming together, of acceptance, of working in coalition, despite our differences. It is our month. We get to take over a major capital city and to occupy its main cultural institutions, in a very powerful and empowering way. "
Apparently, Mardi Gras offers an avenue for coming out for many young (and some not so young) gays and lesbians: those who grew up in Sydney, those who arrived here from country towns, desperate to define their identity, those who have left heterosexual relationships. There are many stories of people coming out to their families on national television, by participating in the parade. There is one story of a young man who even carried a placard saying "Guess What Mum, I'm Gay" and ensuring he got interviewed by a TV reporter during the parade. Of course, his mother said he needn't have gone to so much trouble, she already knew!
There is a serious side to this. Despite the public profile, acceptance and even commercial attraction of Mardi Gras, there remain many legal discriminations against gays and lesbians and continued public attacks on their lifestyle. Suicide amongst young homosexuals is significantly higher than the general youth suicide rate and there are continued attempts to oust gay and lesbian teachers in some areas of the education system because of their sexuality. Not in the armed forces though, we'll take you limp wrists and all!
Same sex relationships are recognised in terms of property ownership but marriage remains illegal. The Rudd government may change this but I've heard nothing about it on their political agenda. And of course, HIV/AIDS is still a high priority in terms of public health and education.
Hey, I don't care what they do in the bedroom. Nobody defines me by my heterosexuality so why define other's by their homosexuality. I do object slightly to the adoption of the word 'gay' which used to mean light-hearted and fun loving and now means something quite different. Better to be happy in a same sex relationship than miserable on your own.
Australia isn't alone in their gender confusion and we're no where near as in tune as the Brits. I had to put some forms together for a client today and was stunned at how progressive the stiff upper lippers are becoming. There is a section on their Pension Application Form for those who have had “Gender Reassignment” So they can explain why they used to be one way and are now, quite obviously another! I must admit I found myself uttering "cool!" under my breath.
So Happy Mardi Gras peeps. Drag out you're sequins, brandish your boa's and crank up the disco beat. Get those Dykes on Bikes and let's see how the Police Gay Liaison Unit handle a trungeon! Happy Mardi Gras!