“We, The Village People”

Tomorrow night thousands of people will converge on Oxford Street to enjoy the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. It marks the climax of one of Sydney’s most popular events that brings visitors to the city to enjoy two weeks of film, theatre, visual arts and community events. This colourful night of celebration, pride and self-expression will be supported by volunteers from KPMG who will be helping people from Cerebral Palsy Alliance enjoy their evening.

For many people the reaction to the parade is a bit like vegemite: you either love it, or you don’t. Aside from the glitz and the glamour, the fun and frivolity, the parade remains a vital symbol for many in the LGBTIQ* community.

But is the parade still relevant in today’s society? The answer is yes.

The first Sydney Mardi Gras was held in 1978 and was the city’s contribution to celebrating International Gay Freedom Day, an event which had grown up as a result of the riots in New York City in 1969 following persistent police raids on gay bars, most notably the Stonewall Inn. Those were interesting times for the broader civil rights movement both here and abroad – think Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, women’s liberation, the anti-war protests. That first Mardi Gras wasn’t just about gay rights. It also strongly supported the rights of women and Indigenous Australians. Unfortunately, it was met by police violence and many people were arrested. Few charges were laid but the names of those who were taken into custody were published in the press. People who had not been “out” to friends, family and work colleagues were outed in a very public fashion.

Australians thankfully live in a very different society now. Legal and social discrimination, not just with regards to sexual orientation or gender identity, have reduced in many respects, and that should be celebrated. Marriage equality, however, remains tantalisingly out of reach for all Australians.

While we should be grateful for the progress made here at home, we should not ignore the oppression that LGBTIQ communities in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Europe and Asia are experiencing. The theme for tomorrow night’s parade is “Passion”, but a focus of the parade will be on the global struggle for equality and justice.

So while tomorrow night looks set to be a fantastic party, it should also be an opportunity to reflect on the progress that has been made since the first Mardi Gras and what work still needs to be done. We also acknowledge those who have contributed so much in so many ways to the freedoms and rights that we as a community have today, and to celebrate, of course, the full strength and diversity of the LGBTIQ community. Happy Mardi Gras!

  • LGBTIQ = lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer
Feature Image courtesy of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Courtney Act on the top of the roof of
the Sydney Opera House. © Anne-Marie Calilhanna

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