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.”