Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi GrasThe Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a parade and pride festival for the gay and lesbian community, held annually in Sydney, Australia. It is one of the largest such events in the world.
It began on June 24, 1978 as a protest march and commemoration of the Stonewall Riots. Although the march's organizers obtained permission, it was revoked, and the march was broken up by the police. Many of the marchers were arrested, though charges were eventually dropped.
The event was held again in 1979, with the name change 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 watched 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 members of community groups and organisations have taken part in the parade representing those organisations, including the police force.
The 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 Legislative Council of the New South Wales Parliament and a former minister of The Uniting Church in Australia, leads this opposition with a prayer for rain on the event. So far, these prayers have been unanswered and Mardi Gras has never had to have been cancelled due to inclement weather.Criticism of Sydney's Mardi Gras was perhaps at its strongest during the early years of the AIDS crisis, and reached another crescendo when the national broadcaster, the ABC, telecast the parade for the first time in 1994 (the first broadcast was a huge ratings success for the network). For the most part, Sydneysiders now accept the Mardi Gras as an important and vibrant part of the city's cultural landscape.
The Mardi Gras organisation has struck financial trouble recently. This has been attuributed by some to poor financial management, but others in the gay community have argued that this is actually a sign of the fact that homosexuality has "gone mainstream" and is now so integrated into the wider suburban Australian community the need to band together for such events is declining. Another explanation of this has been Australia's ongoing public liability crisis, which has seen massive insurance premiums placing a significant burden upon community and public events, if not preventing them.
However, Mardi Gras does enjoy much public support, and the event is sure to remain a vital part of Sydney culture.