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26 Feb 2001

a stunning start

Some 22000 people crammed onto the Opera House steps and into the forecourt to celebrate the launch, jump-starting three weeks of parties, shows and happenings.

Mardi Gras launch is a rare event on the queer calendar. People actually arrive early! You have to, in order to get a good viewing spot, although a giant video screen did help. And as queer Sydney arrived to celebrate, it was given a royal seal of approval by one of the most famous queens in history.
Moored close to the Sydney opera House, the fashionably royal Queen Elizabeth 2 started the ball rolling as it steamed out of the harbor. That was the cue for the fun and games to start.

Twenty two thousand people crammed onto the Opera House steps and into the forecourt. There were plenty of picnics and champagne bottles in evidence, the launch being one of the rare times gays and lesbians mix in roughly equal numbers and across a wide range of age groups.

American country and western drag icon Tina C kicked things off, warbling "Waltzing Matilda" as she strode through the crowd to be joined by co-host Gillian Minervini. Music and entertainment was provided by South African cabaret group After Nines and Australian diva Marcia Hines, a relaxing counterpoint to the politics involved.

Mardi Gras President Julie Regan concentrated her speech on the courage of specific groups within the gay and lesbian community, particularly the Australian-Chinese, lesbians battling for IVF rights and Australian Jews. She said these were all groups who had been outrageously discriminated against in the last year. The Mardi Gras President, in her first launch address, said the event was a celebration of "who we are and our refusal to be invisible".

However, the real passion of the night came from keynote speaker David Marr, an award-winning journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald. Using wit as his weapon he launched a savage attack on the Anglican and Catholic churches.

"They are still preaching hate against us", he said "and in this important election year the politicians are listening to the churches".

Marr, who launched the 1992 Mardi Gras, called on the half a million or so GLBT voters in Australia to think carefully before the upcoming national poll.

"We have to be tougher about who we vote for nasty laws are still here denying us the rights of ordinary people. We do not need privileges we may need special laws but only to help us lead ordinary lives", said Marr.

Fun and politics is very much the mix of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and the next three weeks will see the rainbow flag flying high. As Mardi Gras President Julie Regan said: "it's the month when Sydney belongs to us".






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