On June 28, 1969, riots broke out at the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village of New York City. The spontaneous commotion was retaliation by homosexual visitors of the Inn against the police who were raiding the venue, in search for liquor and drag queens as well as anyone else that they could get their cuffs on. With an attitude of ‘enough in enough’, after witnessing the rough handling of people by the police, those attending became violent.
The Stonewall Riots are said to be one of the most important events in the gay movement timeline as they allowed for groups of gays and lesbians to form and stand up for their rights. Ten years later, wanting to commemorate this important occasion, members of the gay community, wearing colourful costumes and holding signs for rights and acceptance, walked the streets of Sydney for the first time.
This demonstration of gay pride was however not met with open arms as participants were beaten and taken to the police station. More importantly, a national newspaper published the names of those involved in the march, consequently not only outing them to family and friends who may have been none the wiser, but also causing some of them to lose their jobs as homosexuality was still illegal in 1978. Homosexuality would be decriminalised six years later in 1984.
In 2013, the theme of the annual Sydney Mardi Gras Parade is “Generations of Love”: a celebration of how far the gay and lesbian community has come since 1978, with the aptly named “78ers”, many of whom were involved in the 1978 altercation, being some of the first to march in the Parade. Mardi Gras itself is the largest night time event in the world, with 115 floats and 10,000 participants in 2013, as well as over 300,000 spectators attending the parade.
Mardi Gras is a showstopper with various road closures occurring throughout the Sydney CBD for up to 12 hours on the day of the event, as members of the Sydney community march down Oxford and Flinders Streets either with pride or in support of the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex) community.
The Parade begins each year on wheels as Dikes on Bikes and Boys on Bikes ride the length of the Parade route on their Harleys, and other roaring models, flashing the different colours of the LGBTQI flag with their lights, as well as various body parts. The drive back by the riders marks the beginning of the colourful march as energies are uplifted with the honks and the growls of the group.
What follows is a Parade of colourful performers, dressed in sequence and feathers and occasionally barely there underwear. Whilst the majority of the participants are from the gay and lesbian community, there are also plenty of heterosexuals who are either mixed in with the floats or march independently, such as PFLAG – Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
There are a vast number of groups that are represented in the Parade, from the Australian Defence Force and Emergency Services such as the Ambulance and the Police Force, to choirs and skydivers. Universities, banks, international companies such as Google and Amnesty International, take part in the Parade, as well as religious groups and indigenous Australians.
Importantly, it must not be forgotten that the Sydney Mardi Gras is in fact a political march that peacefully creates awareness about various issues, with marriage equality being of main concern over the past few years. Whilst political groups are represented within the Parade, there are several floats that take advantage of the peaceful protest and march alongside anything from heads of politicians on placards to mocking caricatures of heads of state. This is probably the only event where such open criticism is tolerated and where a platform for awareness of social issues is created.
The After Party
If the sequence and feathers during the Parade are not enough, then it’s time to head to Mardigrasland: Sydney Mardi Gras’ official party. Held over 7 venues at the Entertainment Quarter, where the Parade ends, Mardisgrasland is a gay haven, however also an eye opener for any straight folk. The drag queens, the kissing, the touching, the electro music and openness of the event create a different world as members of the LGBTQI community are able to express themselves freely without fear of any repercussions as in 1978.
The partygoers can expect to see the sunlight with the event ending at 8am the following day, as they dance to everything from electro and house music from local and international DJ’s, to some 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and now tracks. To help amp up the volume, Mardigrasland attracted several ‘big names’ in 2013 including Aria Artist of the Decade Delta Goodrem, The Presets playing their full live show, and even Eurovision 2012 winner, the Euphoric Loreen.
Be Part Of It
There are a few ways to watch the Parade:
- Online – usually on the Mardi Gras website or through YouTube clips.
- Be part of the audience – with the Parade beginning at 7:45pm, expect to see people lined along the barricades from as early as midday on Oxford Street. Whilst it may be fun to get into the Mardi Gras spirit by coming in early (or not so much when it rains), Flinders Street is generally a lot less busy especially towards the end of the route. Parade participants keep their energy up throughout the march so don’t think that you will miss out on any action if watching them from Flinders Street.
- Purchase tickets for designated viewing areas – if you want to be in the middle of it all then get yourself a seat in Club Tropicana which allows guests to view the event from its prime position on Oxford Street. Alternatively, head to the Glamstand and enjoy a VIP experience that is hosted by an MC and includes special guests throughout the night.
- Volunteer – Although I am straight, I have volunteered for this event for the past three years. Why you ask? Because it’s fun! Not only do you get front row seats (metaphorically speaking as you are usually standing), but you also get to interact with the audience to ensure that they are having a fabulous time as well as get discounted party tickets. If this is not exactly ‘your world’ then volunteering will allow you to experience something that you may have never encountered before and gain a greater appreciation for the different communities within society and what it takes to achieve some basic human rights.
Want to see what it’s really like? Click below to watch some YouTube clips from the night: