The first memory I have of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is back in high school. My drama teacher was talking to us about equality, I think. Whatever point he was trying to make was for some reason demonstrated best by him taking on a very camp voice, and strutting about the classroom squealing about having a Heterosexual Mardi Gras. He said it made sense – if gay people wanted equality, then why did they need to go parading up and down Oxford Street? You don’t see straight people doing that, do you?
As a gay adult, I think I know the answer to this: Yes, actually. You do see straight people parading up and down Oxford Street. Every day. And they are safe. They are accepted as normal. They aren’t under any threat. They don’t need to be careful, or to be aware of who is around them.
Recently, there were two attacks on gay men in the Newcastle area. They didn’t really get a huge amount of publicity. But they happened.
When I came out, I lost the right to marry the person I love. I lost friends. I made new friends, and life kept rolling. But it was the first time I realised that things were going to be very different now. Even just a couple of months ago, I was at the local gay bar, and a taxi pulled up. A group of drunk, loud and pirate-dressed men clamboured out of the cab, and my beloved and I jumped in. The cabbie told us that the men had been laughing about going to the gay bar. The thrill of the other, I suppose. But they were going because it was a thing. Not because it was the only pub open. And that’s fine – in fact, anyone seems to be welcome at most of the “gay” places I’ve been to. There doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of discrimination being put out from the gay community.
So I guess the Mardi Gras festival is about more than just a parade. It’s about standing up, being proud of who you are and realising, perhaps for the first time, that you’re not all alone in the world.
My first Mardi Gras was this for me. For the first time, I was part of a majority. I didn’t need to worry about things like being stared at or different. The night itself was a total disaster – it was in the middle of Sydney that the girl I had been seeing decided to rekindle the passion with her ex girlfriend, leaving me to find a train back to Newcastle on my own. But all around me, it was party time. Pride and joy and unity and excitement. Crowds of people – more than you could even imagine. Milk crates everywhere.
For the first time, I saw different groups within the community I had joined. Supporters, bears, lipstick lesbians, femmes, queens, kings and of course the dykes on bikes. There are floats and costumes and volunteers and representatives from all over Australia. So many different sub cultures. It was incredible – a full rainbow, I guess. The thing is, I didn’t know that all of these groups existed. I didn’t identify with many of them – but what an eye opener. Imagine though, what it would be like to see a group of people dressed the way you like to dress. Or representing things that you are interested in. Imagine what it would be like to suddenly see that there are more people like you out there. That you’re not alone. That you are a part of something. And that you can be proud of who you are.
That is worth celebrating.
And it’s after the dykes on bikes ride the Parade route that the rainbow flag is raised, officially starting the Parade. And everyone watches, and cheers, and is part of a moment. A moment where the people in the Parade stand, unified, showing that it is OK to be who you are. That you aren’t alone. Proving that everything really can be OK, regardless of your sexuality.
So yes. We do need that one night where the gay community can march down Oxford Street. We need it to create a culture that is accepting, tolerant, real.
Happy Mardi Gras, folks. Stay safe.