With the 2012 Sydney Mardi Gras approaching, I thought I would take time to reflect on the history of the Mardi Gras celebrations that it is today and how it all started.
It started on the 24th of June 1978. After the Stonewall Riots, 500 men and women came together at Oxford Street. They wanted an end to the hate and discrimination against LGBT people, also the end to police brutality, and to get anti-homosexual laws revoked. As the night continued 1,500 people joined to the cry of “Out of the bars and into the streets!”
For those who don’t know the Stonewall Riots. They were a number of demonstrations against police raids. Often were spontaneous and violent demonstrations. It was the first time that any of the homosexual community fought back against the government in the US that persecuted sexual minorities. Many who say it was the beginning of the gay rights movement.
This energy for gay rights hit Australia which began that community to start protesting for their rights as well. Even though they had the right to march, it was of course revoked on them. 53 of the marchers were arrested, most of them dropped. The disgusting display of The Sydney Morning Herald printed the names of everyone who was arrested, eventually outing them to their friends and family. Back then the LGBT community were very discreet about revealing themselves as gay or a lesbian to friends and family as it was not socially acceptable, as well as they could have been prosecuted.
However the first Mardi Gras parade was in 1979 to remember the huge impact the Stonewall Riots commemoration march in 1978 had. 3,000 people heard the call to march in the streets, and an estimate 1,000 increase of the previous year. This Mardi Gras was the first themed one, the ‘Power in the Darkness’. A large amount of police were in force, but no arrests were made. In 1980 they decided to move the parade into the summer and therefore the next parade was in 1981.
1981 was the first year the parade was called the “Sydney Gay Mardi Gras”. As well as the huge amount of the community marching, but an overwhelming 5,000 people came to watch this powerful parade demonstrating the energy that is the LGBT community. However a noticeable split between gay and lesbians happened with their inclusion of floats that represented businesses. Most of this decade, many of the lesbian community did not attend the event. 1982 saw the first after party to the parade. 4,000 people attended those events and became a big part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. By 1987 over 100,000 people gathered around to watch this beautiful parade.
The mid 1980s there was huge pressure on the Mardi Gras committee because of the controversy placed with AIDS, It was being demanded to ban the parade and parties, but the 1985 Parade still went on with the theme of “Fighting for Our Lives”. 1988 saw the second rename of the Parade to the “Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras”. 1991 the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Film festival became a Mardi Gras event. 1992 the festival went for 4 week, making it the largest Mardi Gras event in the world. 1994 the “We are Family” theme brought in 137 floats and a 600,000 strong crowd.
Today the Mardi Gras Parade is a huge festival usually the first Saturday of March, lasting for approx 3 weeks. Their message is strong, and the soul lives on. The LGBT community proudly come together each year in their festive and bright colours, with the message of the proud men and women did in the first march in our hearts. It’s more than just a festival; it’s a demonstration of the power, the pride of the community that want their rights, and to show that we are here to stay. Nothing is going to stop us for fighting for what we all deserve, and doing what the community does best, party. I am damn proud to be part of this community, and would love to be part of this fantastic event as soon as I can make it.
Rob - Share Life