WRITTEN BY Grisha Chawla 


Darlinghurst, 1978.

Protesters are marching to gain rights for the LGBTI+ community, to be viewed as equals, to be free from discrimination. Their legs are shaking, unsteady with excitement, their eyes glossed over with joy, their heads held high with pride.

Then the violence begins. Arrests are made, people are beaten up by the police. They cry and scream, limbs thrashing violently. They are locked up. Excitement turns to panic. Joy turns to pain.

Yet the pride remains. They stay devoted. They are how we have what we have here today. Their unwavering dedication to the cause is celebrated now in the form of an annual event – the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. What started off as a fight to bring recognition to and achieve equal rights for the rainbow community, has decades later become a globally recognised mass celebration of queer culture and the progress made by the community.

At this year’s Mardi Gras, I had the privilege of speaking to a 78er, Fiona, who drove in the parade with Rainbow Families. She spoke of the police brutality and hatred she experienced in 1978, describing it as “hell.” Fiona’s voice was strong and clear when she admitted that she wants the police to say sorry.

“When I get off at Oxford Street today, I’m free. Free from the post-traumatic stress, free from the hatred,” she exclaimed. She was arrested at the first Mardi Gras, and when asked what she was marching for, she said:

“I’m here for the 78ers that aren’t here today, due to the AIDS epidemic or police brutality. I’m marching today for them.”

While Mardi Gras gives us an opportunity to recognise how far we have come, it also heightens and brings awareness to the fact that there is still such a long way to go. It brings recognition to a group that at times, loses its voice within the political landscape. With issues like the Religious Discrimination Bill being at the forefront of the political landscape, it becomes increasingly crucial that the queer community is actively involved and accurately represented in politics, not just during the period of Mardi Gras. It is not meant to be an opportunity for corporations to put a rainbow on something and label it pride, to use it as a marketing strategy, nothing more than a chance to make money. Unfortunately, many do view Mardi Gras as a mere opportunity for monetary gain through the queer community.

“It’s sad that it’s a once yearly thing,” said Phillipa from the Star Observer, “companies are falling over backwards to partner with us for Mardi Gras. But where are you the rest of the year? We’re still here, we still need to be recognised.”

Despite this, Mardi Gras is important to Phillipa as she has marched for “years of being a marginalised member of the community, for what we suffered. I march because I can. I can look ridiculous, be myself, wear whatever I want.”

The theme of this year’s Mardi Gras was ‘What Matters.’ What matters to each of us is different and personal, we have our individual stories and purposes. Mardi Gras is a chance for us to unite, to come together and celebrate who we are, despite our differences. Because you can’t have a community without individuals, and the queer community has stood tall in the face of injustice throughout history.

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