The Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras is an annual gay pride parade and festival for the LGBT community in Sydney, Australia, and is the largest such event in the world. Despite its name, it is not held on Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) or indeed, on a Tuesday at all. It began on June 24, 1978 as a protest march and commemoration of the Stonewall Riots. Although the organisers had obtained permission, this was revoked, and the march was broken up by the police. Many of the marchers were arrested. Although most charges were eventually dropped, the Sydney Morning Herald published the names of those arrested in full, leading to many people being outed to their friends and places of employment, and many of those arrested lost their jobs as homosexuality was a crime in New South Wales until 1984.
The event was held again in 1979, with the name changed to the "Sydney Gay Mardi Gras". In 1980 the first post-parade dance party was introduced, and in 1981 the parade was shifted to February. An increasingly large number of people not only participated in the event, but larger numbers of the wider community turned out to watch the parade. In 1988 the parade was renamed the "Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras".
The parade, whilst featuring many in the gay community with a penchant for exotic costumes and dance music, has always retained a political edge, with often witty visual commentary on their political opponents featuring in the floats. As homosexuality became more and more accepted in the wider community, more gay representatives of community groups and organisations have taken part in the parade, including the police force. The parade features a number of costumed characters that return for many successive years. Dykes on Bikes and Miss New Zealand are perfect examples of regular crowd favourites.
Mardi Gras has continued to attract political opposition from various, mainly conservative Christian, sources. Each year the event is held, Fred Nile, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and a former minister of the Uniting Church in Australia, leads this opposition with a prayer for rain on the event.
Criticism of Sydney's Mardi Gras was perhaps at its strongest during the early years of the AIDS crisis, and reached another crescendo when in 1994 the national broadcaster, ABC, telecast the parade for the first time. JJJ radio has broadcast the event live across the nation a number of times as well.
Political support has come from a number of local and federal politicians such as Senators Natasha Stott Despoja and Penny Wong, Members of the House of Representatives Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek and the present Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
The parade travels along most of Oxford Street which is closed to traffic. The crowds can begin to appear at midday on the day of the parade and by 8 pm crowds can be several people deep. Though it has rained on several Mardi Gras parades (notably with heavy downpours prior to, and drizzle during, the parade in 1995, and heavy rain fall during the parade in 2004), this has never stopped the parade.
The event was somewhat popular and lucrative in the 1990s. An evaluation of the 1998 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras estimated the event injected AUD99 million into the NSW state economy. In the 2000s the Mardi Gras organisation struck financial trouble, nearing a permanent end until an anonymous benefactor arose to provide financial support. This has been attributed by some to poor financial management, but others in the gay community have claimed that these events indicated that homosexuality has "gone mainstream" and is now so integrated into the wider suburban Australian community that the need to band together for such events is declining. Another explanation has been Australia's ongoing public liability crisis, which has seen massive insurance premiums impose a significant burden on community and public events, if not preventing them. However, Mardi Gras still receives some public support, and the event may remain a part of Sydney culture for some time.
The after parade party is one the largest ongoing party events in the country. Mardi Gras Party attendances at Sydney's Hordern Pavilion / Royal Hall of Industries peaked in 1998 with 27,000 tickets sold . In the years since 17,000 to 20,000 tickets are consistently sold, an extraordinary explosion since the first Parade Ball held in 1980 at the Paddington Town Hall, a BYO event which attracted 700 guests .
Mardi Gras today
February is Mardi Gras time in Sydney. In 2007, the festival runs from 12 February to 2 March. Normally, the launch is held at the Sydney Opera House, but organisers have decided to gradually reveal the venue by SMS (text messages) to the public.
The festival's live entertainment including cabarets, comedy, music and theatre. The 14th Mardi Gras Film Festival will showcase 10 gay and lesbian films. There are many literature and arts events, forum and conferences to attend between the many social activities. Individual and team sports have always been a part of the festival.
Fair Day, which is held mid festival at Victoria Park, is a day-time event attended by 65,000. The following weekend, the same park hosts the Pool Party. It commences just before sunset and there is non-stop entertainment for 1000 lycra-clad guests.
On Saturday 3 March, the Parade wound its way from Hyde Park, through the heart of gay and lesbian Sydney, to the biggest dance party in Australia. The main theme for 2007 was "Objects of Love". Boy George was supported by many local and other international DJs till the early hours. There were also live performances from Young Divas, Paul Mac, Bob Downe, Vanessa Wagner, Katie Noonan and other artists. The parade was featured in an episode of the MTV reality show The Real World: Sydney, during which four cast members attended the festivities.
A huge star of Mardi Gras 2007 was Rupert Everett, who attended various events throughout the festival and was the 2007 Chief of the Mardi Gras Festival and Chief of the 2007 Parade. On February 26, 2007 he discussed his autobiography "Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins" at the York Theatre, Seymour Centre in front of a packed house. His comments about openly gay Sydney real estate agents Michael Marquette and Simon Turner were captured by both SX Magazine and The Sydney Star Observer. He complimented the duo on their courage in coming out in what he thought to be a really difficult industry to be openly gay.
For many years a fully themed, magazine style guide with information on all events has been produced, and a multi-disc compilation album is often released in conjunction with the festival.
On January 19, 2008, Robert Forsyth, Anglican bishop of South Sydney condemned "Corpus Christi" (which opens for February's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a play depicting Judas seducing gay Jesus): "It is deliberately, not innocently, offensive and they're obviously having a laugh about it." The play also showed Jesus' administration of gay marriage between 2 apostles. Director Leigh Rowney accepted that it would offend some Christians and said: "I wanted this play in the hands of a Christian person like myself to give it dignity but still open it up to answering questions about Christianity as a faith system." Playwright Terrence McNally, a gay man, received death threats when it was played in the United States.
- "The Power of One," Sydney Morning Herald, January 5, 2008
- (Marsh, I. & Levy, S. (1998) Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras: Economic Impact Statement 1998 Sydney, Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Ltd)
- Pinkboard Mardi Gras History 90s
- Pinkboard Mardi Gras History 80s
- Afp.google.com, Row erupts in Australia over 'gay' Jesus play: report