This weekend is one of the most exciting events in Australia – the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. The annual event, attended by a crowd of 300,000 people, will be held at the end of the month-long festival to celebrate LGBTQI communities. This year, Mardi Gras has been running since February 15th, flourishing the city with art shows, talks and even a rainbow crossing.
‘A bustling extravaganza that brings Sydney to a standstill and shines a global spotlight on LGBTQI lives, culture, communities and creativity. With spectacular floats, thousands of participants, a veritable smorgasbord of glittering colour and dynamic shape, the parade showcases the glitz and glamour of our community.’ –Mardi Gras website, 2019
The Mardi Gras parade is more than just a fun event; it has been a powerful message of love and activism for over four decades in Sydney, with every year becoming more and more popular. But why exactly is it so important and does it reflect the current progression in Australia towards diversity, inclusivity and acceptance?
Australia has a had pretty *ahem* interesting history with the LGBTQI community, with homosexuality only decriminalised across Australia in 1994. To put that into perspective with other Western countries, England decriminalised it in 1967, Sweden in 1944, Canada in 1969 and France in 1791.
The start of Sydney Mardi Gras itself stemmed from a global lack of rights and acceptance for sexual minorities. New York had a strong gay rights movement gathering (with the first gay pride parade in 1970) after the 1969 Stonewall Riots. In 1978 in Darlinghurst Sydney, a large group of diverse gay, lesbian and transgender people went out into the street to march against discrimination and celebrate their culture. The outcome was shocking police brutality, multiple arrests which attracted mass media coverage. The following year, the march increased three-fold with no police interference.
“The survival and success of Mardi Gras represents a remarkable and defining change in public attitudes.”National Museum Australia, Defining Moments 2019
Since the 1980s onwards Sydney Mardi Gras has grown dramatically in popularity from around the world, currently generating around $38 million for the NSW economy. Last year was one of the largest parades in terms of crowd numbers on record with same-sex marriage FINALLY becoming legal in Australia through a postal vote. Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) itself is an organisation that not only works on the month long annual event, but works all year round on social justice and inclusivity for LGBTQI communities.
Last year, 61.6 percent of voters said ‘yes’ to same-sex marriage, which then passed and made legal. It seems like one step forward, two steps back with leadership *cough cough* Obama to Trump. The current federal leadership in Australia under Prime Minister Scott Morrison, is doing sweet F-all for social and environmental change. Scott Morrison (or to use his self-appointed nickname ScoMo), is a ‘good’ religious family man, who has slowed down any progression on LGBTQI rights, education or climate action. The Prime Minister even called trans kids “gender whisperers” to which one has to ask – ScoMo what does that even mean? Even the Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of US Vogue, recently took a swing at ScoMo when she was in Melbourne for his backwards attitude to trans children in schools.
The Prime Minister may not be doing much, but history is on the side of cultural revolution and as such, the power is with the people.
Last weekend I went to an extraordinary event as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival called My Tran Story – The Next Generation. As I sat in the audience and heard the fearless storytellers, I realised that stories, human celebrations and activism play a key role in moving society forward. When people witness and experience events like Sydney Mardi Gras, there is a greater chance of it growing, affecting and teaching more people, and enlisting more members in the fight for equal rights. When families attend, it gives children the opportunity to see and understand universal love, kindness and acceptance in all forms.
So yes, Sydney Mardi Gras is damn special – it represents the power of activism to create change and the importance of acceptance.
This year is also extra special as the event is going greener, with a phase out of glitter and a ban on single-use plastic water bottles and balloons.
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Title image credit: Unsplash.