In June 1978, the first ever 'Mardi Gras' took place as a struggle for survival, a street battle for rights and recognition and a challenge to the wide spread discrimination. Those who marched were met by hostility and ignorance, resulting in mass arrests and extensive police violence.
The SGLMG began as a political march providing a forum to raise awareness of the daily discrimination and hostility many of the gay and lesbian community were experiencing.
Today however, much of the political struggle for equality has been forgotten, as vibrant colours dominate the television coverage, which focuses on the excessive sexual nature of many of the floats and costumes.
Whilst much of the acknowledgement and recognition relies on this vibrant display of celebration, tolerance and diversity, remember, that whether you are marching or watching, the battle for equality continues.
When attending the Mardi Gras for the first time in the crowd, I was amazed at the ignorance and strong heterosexual presence which pervades the atmosphere.
When marching, I had never noticed this presence, and was thus quite surprised and concerned.
The parade, as a free event, attracts large numbers of people, some of whom are supportive and others, whom are not. Something to remember when you are stumbling about! Stay close to friends, and make sure you know where to go for safety or help such as well known clubs like Midnight Shift and Stonewall or medical tents.
The Mardi Gras is often thought to be solely a one night parade, precluding this however are three weeks of culturally rich festivities. Ranging from queer screenings to a pool party and even a Fair Day. The festival, culminating in the parade and party, is as enjoyable as the final night itself.
Part of the attraction of the festival is the immense sense of community and relaxed atmosphere. Oxford Street and Newtown are the places to be with the streets a flurry of activity and cafés full of chatter!
As President of the SGLMG Committee Julie Reghan said at last year's launch: "This is the month when Sydney belongs to us." And indeed it is, for this is the time to get out and meet others at cafés, events and of course the Fair Day.
Fair day is in essence a family day, a day for all ages, and a day when the entire family of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people come out to enjoy the sun, music and the infamous dog show.
The entire festival is a celebration of "who we are and our refusal to be invisible" (says Reghan). It is also a time to feel and be safe as we find ourselves surrounded by other smiling gay and lesbian people.
Happy Mardi Gras (this year's catchcry) "encapsulate more than just fun - it's a major international celebration for the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people who get together every year to celebrate our lives and cultural achievements, and to stake our claim on this city," says Reghan.
Places And Events
The parade and party are two of the most advertised and recognised events, yet there is much more partying and politics to be had than just the final evening.
Fair Day - A 'family' day with stalls, a pool and lots of entertainment. A must do, it's close to the city (via a special bus route (number 69) from Oxford Street to Victoria Park). But it can get really hot and since there isn't much shade, you had better bring your umbrellas, or get there early to secure a shady spot. Remember to take sunscreen and friends!
Chinese New Year - In its fourth year, this has previously been an under advertised yet popular event. The Year of the Horse is to be celebrated in colourful style at the Chinese Gardens of friendship. So dress accordingly!
Music - A great selection of musical events some at the gorgeous Government House such as Baroque and Beyond.
Films - A huge selection of queer films, such as All Over The Guy and Stranger Inside.
On Stage - Some amazing works such as, Mahal, Kiss my Fist, and Notorious C.H.O.
Words and Ideas - A number of works, including a lesbian literary event at Government House.
Visual Arts - Another part of the festival with lots of events, one of the most intriguing being Where A Man Meets A Man by Korean artist Inhwan Oh. In his act, Oh creates an exhibition of names written with cedarwood incense powder. These are then burned, leaving an indelible mark upon the surface, after glowing brightly and fading into ash.
Parade - Generally topping 650 000 in crowds, this is Mardi Gras' biggest event (duh). Remember, there are some people at the parade who are NOT gay friendly, so go with friends. If you can't be in it (or with friends,) try and book seats @ BGF seating (Bobby Goldsmith Foundation).
Party - A private Mardi Gras members event, either head to the dancefloor, or kick back in a chill out zone. Held at Fox Studios, everything is available (at exorbitant prices of course.) Take lots of money, and cigarettes, but forget the chunky bags and cameras - and passouts aren't available till around 2-3 am.
Pool Party - This event is extremely popular, selling out quickly. Offering the water babies of the community a night to frolic in the water! Prizes awarded so get into your smallest, sexiest costume and get ready for some sizzling breaststrokes!
Harbour Party - In its last year, and with two nights of back-to-back celebration this is another favourite, so get your tixs quickly. Offering the best view in Sydney and a massive dancefloor, how can life get any better?
Mardi Gras is more than a single night of partying. It is a celebration of the equality we have achieved, a political statement about the struggle we have had to face to succeed and a display of our community's diversity, acceptance, and pride.
HAPPY MARDI GRAS!