Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (1)
The Mardi Gras Party is held on the first Saturday in March
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a unique Australian festival. It’s a party of the rarest – and most uninhibited – breed; it’s the single largest night-time parade of its kind in the world, drawing a bigger crowd than any other annual event in Australia. Above all, though, it’s a political demonstration, and one that is without equal in colour, drama, spectacle and wit. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is, in fact, the umbrella term for a month-long arts, sport and lifestyle festival, which operates throughout February – a feast of theatre, visual arts, film, literature, music, dance, cabaret, comedy and sporting events that combine to make this the largest gay and lesbian festival in the world.
The Mardi Gras Parade began as a protest march for homosexual law reform in 1978. The original parade took a different route to the current one and ended up in Sydney’s red-light district, Kings Cross, where police intervened violently and a scuffle took place, ending in imprisonment for many of the protesters. The Sydney Morning Herald published the names and addresses of those arrested the following week, and many leading gay and lesbian business people and rights lobbyists lost their jobs and livelihoods as a result. Not surprisingly, the parade became an annual focus for protests against this kind of treatment, and the law in general, and although in 1981 the legal status of homosexuals was reformed, in New South Wales at least, (homosexuality is no longer deemed a psychological disorder, although sodomy is still illegal), the parade has grown in strength and fabulousness year on year. The original marchers still form an important part of the parade each year, and can be seen under the banner of “78ers”. However, the over-ambitious SGLMG organization that had developed out of the event collapsed in 2003, owing half a million dollars. Community spirit and the talent and hard work of a few volunteers saw the organization reborn, as the leaner New Mardi Gras (NMG), who are responsible for the Launch, the Fair Day, the Parade and the Party. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras takes place throughout the final, steamy month of summer, beginning with an official launch celebration in early February, and culminating in the parade at the beginning of March – an event with about six thousand participants and half a million spectators.
There’s something for everyone in the run-up to Mardi Gras – shows, performances (many held in Sydney’s fine old theatres and even in the Opera House), and plenty of sporting competitions, too, including the “Little Black Dress” drag fun run in Centennial Park. Events take place all over the city but it’s the NMG’s parade and party – both of which take place in the Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Paddington area, just south of the backpacker (and red-light) district of Kings Cross – that mark the culmination of the festival, draw the biggest crowds and flaunt the most outrageous costumes. In essence, the parade is Mardi Gras’ heart and soul, a full-on celebration of gay culture, and a joyous demonstration of pride. But the wild party afterwards is just as huge, involving up to twenty thousand gay and lesbian community members and their friends, with celebrations continuing for days afterwards.