Why the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras matters

Yana Alana is seen during the Sydney Mardi Gras 2019 program launch in Sydney, Friday, November 2, 2018.. (AAP Image/Peter Rae)

Yana Alana is seen during the Sydney Mardi Gras 2019 program launch in Sydney, Friday, November 2, 2018.. (AAP Image/Peter Rae)

The end of February heralds an important time of year for many of the LGBTIQ community nationally. For two glorious weeks the City of Sydney hosts a diverse range of film, theatre, visual arts and community events which culminates in a fabulous night of celebration, pride and self-expression that is the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade!

Many people across the city love the spectacle of the parade, and Sydney’s retailers and hospitality industry enjoy a welcome lift to their revenues. This is in stark contrast to the parade’s genesis in 1978 which was dark and violent.

Who is Mardi Gras really for these days, and why do we need it?

Over the last few years laws and attitudes in Australia towards LGBTIQ people have changed, and for the better. The marriage equality ‘Yes’ survey result in November 2017 and the subsequent strong Parliamentary votes in both Houses sent a strong, unequivocal message to LGBTIQ young people, adults and families that they are accepted in Australian society, that their love and relationships are valid, and that they belong.

For many young people, who are discovering their sexuality and gender identity, this can be a challenging and confronting time in their lives. Family, school, cultural norms, and religious institutions can exacerbate matters. Seeing Mardi Gras helps young LGBTIQ people understand they are not alone and that their tribe is everywhere, across every walk of life.

I remember my first pride parade experience. It was the summer of 2001 and I was a sprightly 25 year old who had just moved to London from a turbulent, emerging new South Africa to find fame and fortune. Men in budgie smugglers threw lollies into the crowd to the tune of Kylie Minogue’s “Spinning Around”. Everywhere I looked, same sex-attracted people holding hands, kissing. Drag queens waved from their decorated floats, their hair heroically refusing to collapse in the heat. There wasn’t a hint of anger. I was thrilled on my deepest, gayest level. The parade was a huge gay party, and I had never been so excited to be invited, or felt so welcome, anywhere.

Mardi Gras is for those LGBTIQ people who did not have the same freedoms and opportunity to express themselves as we have today; those men and women who years ago felt that they needed to conform to society’s expectations to be dutiful husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Mardi Gras is also for those pioneers who fought for ‘queer rights’ and ‘gay solidarity’, and also the rights of women and Indigenous Australians.

Mardi Gras is also for trans, non-binary and gender diverse people, and our allies. And that is where Mardi Gras succeeds. It becomes more inclusive and welcoming every year and positions LGBTIQ people as mainstream.

This normalisation (and corporatisation) of the parade doesn’t hit the mark for everyone in the community, but therein lies an opportunity for Mardi Gras’ governing body to remain responsive to the whole community.

This year’s Mardi Gras theme is Fearless”, a poignant acknowledgment of the way LGBTIQ people across the world celebrate who they are. The theme honours those LGBTIQ advocates, activists and individuals who have stood up for who they are and who they want to be. It is also a call to positive action for the future – to be strong, live brave, be proud. Being fearless is more than making a lot of noise. It’s also about acknowledging a person’s own vulnerability, and being able to express who they are, even if it’s not bold.

Happy Mardi Gras everyone.

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14 thoughts on “Why the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras matters

  1. Thanks Andrew, A brilliant article. My first Mardi Gras was 1991, things have come a long way however still a amazing spotlight for the ongoing change needed.

  2. Jennifer Travers

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    Fantastic article Andrew and so beautifully written. I love the theme of fearless. It’s a characteristic that we can all aspire to – to be comfortable in our skin and celebrate ourselves exactly as we are. Enjoy your Mardi Gras experience. How wonderful that society has become more progressive and young people in particular can see it’s OK to be themselves and not need to conform to some society ideal.

  3. “Mardi Gras is for those LGBTIQ people who did not have the same freedoms and opportunity to express themselves as we have today”. Nicely said Andrew, we need to keep celebrating the hard fought recognition and freedoms all those how came before us won and continue to make the workplace and world in general as inclusive as possible. Together we are all stronger!

  4. Thanks for sharing Andrew. Great article and one that needs to be shared with the younger generation who are struggling with their identities. Happy Mardi Gras peeps xo

  5. Fantastic article! Heartfelt wishes to you and everyone in our wonderful LGBTIQ community, you inspire all of us to step up and challenge the status quo. May everyone enjoy a spectacular festival and a fearless year ahead!

  6. Marjorie Johnston

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    Excellent and uplifting overview of Mardi Gras and all it means as a positive, joyous celebration for Sydney and Australia. A very good and informative read.

  7. Brilliant article, Andrew, I love hearing about people’s first Pride experience, and yours sounds so affirming and fun! I also absolutely agree that remaining responsive to the politics of the community, and staying true to the parade’s original transgressive nature is vital to the lifeblood of Mardi Gras. Happy Gay Christmas!

  8. Mark Gossington

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    Great article Andrew. It will be great to see our staff and clients at this years Mardi Gras celebrating inclusion and diversity in our great city.

  9. Great article Andrew! A good reminder of the importance of the event, and the impact it can have on the whole community.

  10. Thank you for sharing that Norton! As someone who’ll be marching in the parade this year, I’m so happy to see the mainstreaming of this conversation.

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