Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
|Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras|
|Genre||LGBT pride parade and festival|
|Begins||Second Thursday in February|
|Ends||First Saturday in March|
|Location(s)||Sydney, New South Wales, Australia|
|Most recent||4 March 2017|
|Participants||9,100 Parade 2012
15,300 Party 2012
|Attendance||300,000 Parade 2011
70,000 Fair Day
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, at one stage temporarily the Sydney Mardi Gras, or locally Mardi Gras, is an annual LGBT pride parade and festival in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, attended by hundreds of thousands of people from around Australia and overseas. It is one of the largest such festivals in the world, and includes a variety of events such as the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade and Party, Bondi Beach Drag Races, Harbour Party, the academic discussion panel Queer Thinking, Mardi Gras Film Festival, as well as Fair Day, which attracts 70,000 people to Victoria Park, Sydney.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of Australia's biggest tourist drawcards, with the parade and dance party attracting many international and domestic tourists. It is New South Wales' second-largest annual event in terms of economic impact, generating an annual income of about A$30 million for the state.
The event grew from gay rights parades held annually since 1978, when numerous participants had been arrested by New South Wales Police. The Mardi Gras Parade maintains a political flavour, with many marching groups and floats promoting LGBTQI rights issues or themes. Reflecting changes since the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, participants in the Mardi Gras Parade now include groups of uniformed Australian Defence Force personnel, police officers from New South Wales State Police, as well as interstate and federal police officers, firefighters and other emergency services personnel from the Australian LGBTQI communities. Marriage equality was a dominant theme in the 2011 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade with at least 15 floats lobbying for same-sex marriage.
On 24 June 1978 at 10 pm as a night-time celebration following a morning protest march and commemoration of the Stonewall Riots organised by the Gay Solidarity Group more than 500 people gathered on Oxford Street, in a planned street "festival" calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals in employment and housing, an end to police harassment and the repeal of all anti-homosexual laws. The figure rose to around 2,000 as revellers out for the Saturday night at Oxford Street bars and clubs responded to the call "Out of the bars and into the streets!". Although the organisers had obtained permission, this was revoked, and the parade was broken up by the police. After the parade was dispersing in Kings Cross, 53 of the participants 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 (NSW) until 1984. Only two people who were arrested were fined. The rest were released without bail and the charges dismissed. The police response to a legal, local minority protest transformed it into a nationally significant event which stimulated gay rights and law reform campaigns.
The second Mardi Gras Parade occurred in 1979 despite opposition by gay media, businesses and groups. The 1979 parade, in recognition of the Stonewall Riots and commemorating the riot of the previous year, was attended by 3,000 people. In that same year, the Labor Government of New South Wales, led by Neville Wran, repealed the Summary Offences Act (NSW) under which the arrests in 1978 were made. The second Mardi Gras had the theme of Power in the Darkness. While there was a large police presence, there were no arrests made.
1980 to 1999
In 1980, after the third successful Mardi Gras parade, at community consultations, decisions were made to move the parade to the summer. In 1981, the parade was shifted to February, with the name changed to the "Sydney Gay Mardi Gras". An increasingly large number of people not only participated in the now summertime event, but a crowd of 5,000 came to watch it. 1981's event saw a split develop between lesbian and gays over the inclusion of floats representing businesses. For most of the decade many lesbian excluded themselves from the event. A large post-parade party was held in 1982, which 4,000 people attended. This would continue to become an integral part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. 1983 saw 44 floats participate with 20,000 onlookers. Footage of the 1984 event appeared in the music video for the Cold Chisel song "Saturday Night". In 1987, an estimated 100,000 people came to watch the parade. The mid-1980s saw considerable pressure placed to the Mardi Gras Committee following media controversy regarding AIDS. Despite calls for the parade and the party to be banned, the 1985 parade went ahead with the theme Fighting for Our Lives. In 1988 the parade was renamed the "Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras" at an Extraordinary General Meeting.
1991 saw the eighth annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Film festival, a Mardi Gras event, included in a national film festival for the first time. In this year the parade had become the largest ever held in Australia. In 1992, the festival lasted for four weeks, making it the largest gay and lesbian festival in the world. By 1993, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade had become the largest night time outdoor parade in the world. Mardi Gras' Economic Impact Study found that the total Mardi Gras impact into the Australian economy was around A$38 million. In February 1993 an Umbrella Event of the festival was the play "Nothing Personal" designed by Arthur Dicks. In 1994, Mardi Gras Festival adopted the theme We are Family, a nod to it being International Year of the Family. That year there were 137 floats in the parade with 600,000 spectators. For the first time, the parade was filmed by the ABC TV and shown on Sunday 6 March at 8.30 pm. It won its time slot and earned ABC TV its highest ratings in history. The 1997 parade was covered by Libbi Gorr's current affairs show McFeast on ABC TV. An Aboriginal man dressed as Captain Cook and Aboriginal float led the parade in 1988, 218 years after Cook's landing and claim on the land. The State Library of NSW holds an extensive collection of material related to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras including posters, clippings, photographs and the personal papers of people active in the event and festival over many years.
Criticism of the Sydney Mardi Gras was perhaps at its strongest during the early years of the AIDS crisis, and flared again when in 1994 the national broadcaster ABC telecast the parade for the first time.
In 1996 there was criticism over the inclusion of bisexuals and heterosexuals as members of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. It was claimed that the subsequent requirement for those people to correctly answer specific questions, created two classes of membership - namely (1) gays, lesbians and transgender people and (2) bisexuals and heterosexuals.
2000 to 2009
The 2001 Parade was broadcast on Network Ten and had a theme of gay and lesbian parenting. The 2002 event saw a loss of A$400,000. In August the organising company was bankrupt. In 2003, the festival organisers responded to claims that the event was becoming too commercialised by implemented a scaled-down, grassroots approach. The 2009 performance figures indicated about 9,500 participants and 134 floats were part of the parade, making it the largest ever. Up to 300,000 spectators from Australia and overseas turned out in 2011 for the celebrations.
Mardi Gras, at different times, has attracted criticism from its own members, LGBTQI communities, and a variety of religious and political groups. Some argue Mardi Gras is inherently subversive to traditional Christian, Islamic and Jewish values. 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 a prayer for rain on the event.
In January 2008 Robert Forsyth, the Anglican bishop of South Sydney, condemned Corpus Christi for opening the Mardi Gras because it depicted Judas seducing a gay Jesus as well as Jesus' administration of gay marriage between two apostles. Director Leigh Rowney accepted that it would generate discussion on Homosexuality and Christianity and stated: "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.
2010 to 2015
In early 2011, members of the organisation unanimously voted to include intersex formally into the organisation at the Annual General Meeting and adopt the formal use of the LGBTQI acronym. To allow for greater inclusion of the LGBTQI community it represents (including those identifying as bisexual, transsexual, queer and intersex), on 17 November 2011 the festival and event organisers changed the event name to "Sydney Mardi Gras". On the same date the organisation reverted to its former name, "Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras" (from "New Mardi Gras"), as more than 9,100 participants joined in the 2012 Parade, on 134 floats.
In 2011 Mardi Gras came under fire from LGBTQI communities for removing the words "Gay and Lesbian" from the festival's name. The organisation's board confessed that they did not adequately consult the community in such an important decision. The organisation has also been criticised for focusing on the requests of corporate sponsors, and allowing their floats rather than maintaining its original sense of identity. This followed the 2010 season in which the Mardi Gras Parade and Party were held on separate dates for the first time in history.
During the rebranding in 2011, Mardi Gras Chairman Peter Urmson stated:
"I think that whilst we are first and foremost a GLBTQI community organisation, we also are very open to all of our friends that do not necessarily identify within that alphabet soup."— Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Chairman, Peter Urmson, in 2011 during debate on the rebranding of the organisation and the festival's name.
In addition to offending many, including former Mardi Gras president Richard Cobden, who says the group didn't have the authority to make such a change:
"Peter Urmson says 'this is our gift to the city'. It was not his to give… For 20-plus years we have been able to force the mainstream media to call it the 'Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.' They had to say the words. For a long time they did not want to but we made them. That has been thrown away."— Former Mardi Gras president Richard Cobden in 2011.
The name of the festival was subsequently restored as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
In 2013, the New South Wales Police were accused of police brutality after a video shot by a bystander showing a handcuffed man thrown to the ground by an officer. By 2014, all charges against the bystander were withdrawn by police and the officer concerned was facing disciplinary proceedings.
On a number occasions, there have been controversies with, and bans of, the UFO-related Raelians participation in the parade. A Raelian spokesman said the bans were unfair as the Raelians support non-discrimination and have gay and lesbian members.
In 2012 Mardi Gras organisers faced the issue of having an Australian polygamists' float in the parade, whilst also promoting marriage equality for couples. Particularly, as the 2012 Mardi Gras theme was "universal and infinite love", some polygamists felt discriminated against. The issue was resolved with a polygamy float, based on the theme, "Queer Polyamory". In the 2014 Mardi Gras there was another float, "Polyamory Sydney ‘Birds of a Feather, love together’ – the infinite love Nest".
Mardi Gras Parade
|2012 Pool Party|
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival culminates in the renowned Sydney Mardi Gras Parade, an LGBTQI rights protest and celebration of sexuality. The parade features more than 8,500 entrants in colourful costumes and elaborate floats, who represent a community group, topical theme or political message. Parade entrants include members of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Australian Defence Force, Amnesty International Australia, Australian Marriage Equality, City of Sydney, Fire and Rescue NSW, Taronga Conservation Society and DNA (magazine) among many others.
Each parade starts with approximately 200 Dykes on Bikes riding up Oxford Street. It is often accompanied by fireworks displays, which are launched from the rooftops of buildings along the parade route. Approximately 300,000 spectators watch the Parade as it snakes 1.7 kilometres (1.1 mi) through the Sydney CBD and Darlinghurst.
The parade travels along Oxford Street before turning into Flinders Street and finally into the bus lane that runs parallel to Anzac Parade – to the parade end. These roads and others including some around Hyde Park, are closed to traffic for the duration of the parade and for a few hours after as clean-up operations proceed.
Each year, a Chief of Parade (Grand Marshal), is chosen by the organisation New Mardi Gras as someone who represents the values and spirit of Mardi Gras. This honourable title has previously been awarded to:
- 2004 – Monica Hingston, former nun and cousin of Cardinal George Pell 
- 2007 – Rupert Everett, gay actor
- 2008 – Margaret Cho, bisexual American comedian
- 2009 – Matthew Mitcham, Australian Olympic gold-medalist, world record holder and 2008 Australian Sports Performer of the Year
- 2010 – Amanda Lepore, transgender model/performer
- 2011, instead of a single Chief of Parade leading the march, eight high-profile heroes were chosen to lead the Parade. These were Lily Tomlin, a gay actress and comedian; Peter Tatchell, a world-renowned gay rights campaigner; Don Baxter, Executive Director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations at that time; Bev Lange, Chief Executive Officer of the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation at the time, a former President of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and a former co-chair of the Sydney Gay Games; Lex Watson and Sue Wills, Campaign Against Moral Prosecution's (CAMP) first Co-Presidents; and Hannah Williams and Savannah Supski, who had recently protested against the ban against same-sex couples at Hannah's Melbourne school formal. The same year, Ignatius Jones consulted as Artistic Director to oversee the creative production of the Parade.
- 2012 – Shelley Argent, the national spokesperson for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and 2011 Queensland Senior Australian of the Year
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is extensively covered by the media. In 2011, it was broadcast on radio by Joy 94.9 FM Melbourne and 2SER 107.3 FM Sydney. The Parade was also shown live on Foxtel's Arena in its entirety. The Arena broadcast was presented by hosts Louie Spence of Pineapple Dance Studios, Charlotte Dawson, Ruby Rose and Matthew Mitcham. The Parade was also broadcast on radio live by various community radio stations, via the CBAA's Community Radio Network satellite. In 2012, Optus, a corporate sponsor, broadcast a delayed and edited highlights of the parade via www.mardigrastv.org.au. In 2014, SBS TV broadcast delayed and edited coverage of the parade highlights, hosted by Tom Ballard, Patrick Abboud and Heather Peace.
Despite its name, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is not held on Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) or indeed, on a Tuesday at all. In recent years, the Mardi Gras Parade has been on the first Saturday of March, with a festival of events going for approximately three weeks preceding it.
The parade running order for 4 March 2017.
Mardi Gras Party (post Parade)
The post parade party is one of 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 increase over the first Parade Ball held in 1980 at the Paddington Town Hall, a BYO event which attracted 700 guests. Although, by the late first decade of the 21st century, ticket sales has begun to fall, with the 2012 post parade party selling out at 15,300 tickets; and ticket sales a little lower again in 2013.
The 2010 party was not held on the night of the parade and was later described by the organisers as human error during scheduling.
In the last 20 years, several well known local and international artists have performed at the Party and include:
- 1990 – Sam Backo, Marcia Hines
- 1991 – Tina Arena
- 1994 – John Paul Young, Kylie Minogue
- 1995 – Boy George
- 1996 – Trudi Valentine, Thelma Houston
- 1997 – Chaka Khan, Village People
- 1998 – Jimmy Somerville, Kylie Minogue, Dannii Minogue
- 1999 – Dannii Minogue, Marcia Hines, Erin Hamilton, Jimmy Barnes
- 2001 – Vanessa Amorosi, Sheena Easton, Christine Anu
- 2002 – Human Nature, Bardot, Deborah Cox, Lorna Luft
- 2003 – Suzanne Palmer, Joan Rivers
- 2005 – Nicki French, Darren Hayes, Tina Arena, Courtney Act
- 2006 – Baby Marcelo, Jimmy Somerville, Mary Kiani
- 2007 – Young Divas, Boy George, Dannii Minogue, Log Log Binks
- 2008 – Cyndi Lauper, Olivia Newton-John
- 2009 – Alison Jiear, Tina Arena, Miami Horror
- 2010 – George Michael, Kelly Rowland, Adam Lambert, Amanda Lepore
- 2011 – Wynter Gordon, Calvin Harris, Alexis Jordan, Frankie Knuckles, Larry Tee, Bob Downe
- 2012 – Kylie Minogue, RuPaul, Sneaky Sound System, Shauna Jensen, Sam Sparro
- 2013 – Loreen, Delta Goodrem, Heather Small, The Presets, Jake Shears
- 2014 – Tina Arena, Courtney Act, Samantha Jade, Marcia Hines, Nathan Mahon, Adam George
- 2015 – Dannii Minogue, Nick Jonas, Jessica Mauboy, Jake Shears, Betty Who, Rufus Wainwright, Courtney Act
- 2016 – Conchita Wurst, Deborah Cox, Courtney Act
- 2017 – Client Liaison, The Veronicas, Steve Grand, Nat Conway, Greg Gould
Mardi Gras Festival
The festival's live entertainment includes cabaret, comedy, music and theatre. The Mardi Gras Film Festival showcases international and local 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 big part of the festival.
Mardi Gras Fair Day
In 1979 an 'Alternative Lifestyle Fair' as part of a week of activities around International Gay Solidarity Day. During the early 1980s the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association held an annual Fair Day, which was brought into the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras program in 1985. From 1985 to 1988 the Business Association continued to run the Fair, which was subsequently run by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from 1989. The event is the kick off event for the official Mardi Gras season in Victoria Park, Sydney for Sydney's wider LGBTQI communities and their friends and family. Up to 70,000 people routinely turn out to sit on the grass, browse the stalls and catch up with old friends or make some new ones. Fair Day 2011 saw record numbers of attendees. Entertainment came from the Foxtel Main Stage and included a set from Zoe Badwi and Garçon Garçon, and one of the biggest ever "Mr and Mrs Fair Day" competitions. Approximately 250 volunteers assisted with 220 stalls made up of many LGBTQI community groups.
In 2017, Mardi Gras Fair Day will be held at Camperdown Memorial Rest Park on Sunday 19 February.
Mardi Gras Awards
|Hall of Fame winners|
|26 April 1992||Lance Gowland, Bruce Belcher, Ron Muncaster,Kimberly
O'Sullivan, Peter Tully, David Wilkins, and Brian McGahen
|28 March 1993||Colin Fawcett, Leggs Galore, Robyn Laverack, and Cath Phillips|
|17 April 1994||Barry Cecchini, Peter Macdonnell, and Bruce Pollack|
|1 May 1995||Ron Austin, Murray McLachlan, and Bill Whittaker|
|28 April 1997||Kathy Pavlich and Susan Harben|
|14 April 2000||Bill Morley, David McDiarmid and John Marsden|
|Source: A history of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras|
The Mardi Gras Awards are presented to organisations and individuals who made an outstanding contribution to Mardi Gras and the gay and lesbian community.
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, Premier Barry O'Farrell as well as the present Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore.
Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull attended the 2016 Mardi Gras. There was a movement by some Mardi Gras members to disinvite him in 2017 due to "lack of action on marriage equality". however the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras board subsequently rejected the move.
Hundreds of thousands of Australians and international guests come out in support of the Parade, with many lining up for a viewing spot from early in the afternoon. By the 7.45 pm Parade kick-off, crowds are usually ten-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 rainfall during the parade in 2004), this has never stopped the parade.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is regarded internationally as one of the world's biggest and best LGBTQI marches and festivals, and has been described as an "absolute once-in-a-lifetime must for every travelling gay man". Mardi Gras is featured in the programmes of tour operators which target the gay market.
In the 2000s the Mardi Gras organisation struck financial trouble, and collapsed. This was attributed at the time to poor financial management and a downturn in international tourism following the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, while another explanation was given as 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. As a consequence of the impending collapse of the organisation, there was a groundswell of concern and support within Sydney's LGBTQI communities for the continuation of the work and events of Mardi Gras. A series of crisis meetings culminated in the creation of a reformed organisation "New Mardi Gras" being formed to continue the Parade, the Festival & the Party.
In 2008, it was announced that the Government of New South Wales would provide funding for Mardi Gras as it had become part of the state's Master Events Calendar. Limited funds have also been sourced from the Sleaze Ball party held in Sydney towards the end of the year. Mardi Gras still receives significant public support and the event now receives some limited government funding.
In 2013, a temporary rainbow crossing was created by City of Sydney Council as part of the 35th anniversary celebrations. The rainbow crossing proved popular with tourists and when it was removed a protest campaign, DIY rainbow crossing, emerged and was picked up by the local and international media.
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- List of LGBT events
- Mardi Gras Film Festival
- Tourism in Sydney
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sydney Mardi Gras.|
- Official website
- Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 1978-2018 interactive Timeline on Google Arts & Culture
- Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives holds extensive collections relating to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, including records, photographs, publications, posters, artwork, T-shirts, badges etc.
- Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival coverage on SBS
- Garry Wotherspoon (2008). "Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras". Dictionary of Sydney. Dictionary of Sydney Trust. Retrieved 5 October 2015. [CC-By-SA]