​ Your essential guide to Mardi Gras in 2021

By Chantel Henwood

When you think of Mardi Gras I wouldn't blame you if the first image that comes to mind is biodegradable glitter, drag queens and leather cladded lesbians on motorbikes. To be honest, it really is a sight to see. 

However, Mardi Gras history is rooted in protest against the mistreatment and abuse of LGBTIQ+ people. In 1978, on the anniversary of the stonewall riots, the streets of Darlinghurst were filled with protesters. At the time, homosexuality was illegal and would remain so for another 26 years. 

Now years later this march through the streets remains an annual calendar event featuring corporate sponsorships and government council approval. For some, its protests roots are arguably overshadowed by its popularism and celebrations, but for many, Mardi Gras remains an opportunity to remember those who came before them and engage in community. 

This year the Mardi Gras Parade will be taking on a new look at the Sydney Cricket Ground on March 6th. Maintaining the same Glitz, Glamour and biodegradable Glitter as every year, Mardi Gras will be following a strict COVID safe plan to ensure all attendees and chart topping performers like Rita Ora can stay safe and sexy.

The Parade remains the main event for many however the Mardi Gras festival contains a diverse program of performances, talks, film music and art spreading across nearly three weeks. Each program feature has its own unique elements. however, every event is designed to celebrate the lives of LGBTIQ+ people and highlight key issues and challenges that are still impacting the community today. 

So if you’re ready to step away from the conventional and see what all those corporate sponsorships are used for, here is your guide to enjoying the Mardi Gras festival as more than just a parade.

NAS Queer Contemporary: Skin Deep

Friday 19th February to Sunday 7th March

Cell Block Theatre, National Art School Darlinghurst

Love tattoos, music, and celebrating diverse bodies? 

Curated by NAS Executive Producer Terese Casu, SKIN DEEP is an interactive exhibition that presents intimate and personal stories of LGBTQI+ people through their tattooed bodies and stories, celebrating diversity, defiance and body art. This exhibition is made up of several unique components - presented in an integrated experience. 

Celebrated Sydney photographer, Waded, celebrated the diversity of bodies and queerness in this unique portraiture series which allows participants to tell unique stories through their body art. Woven through the photographic exhibition will include historical images and the background of LGBTQI+ tattooed symbols used over the last century to convey political messages or to reveal one's identity.

This stunning exhibition also features live performances choreographed by Meryl Tankard, featuring The Amazing Ari, Geoff Ostling and Basjia Almaan. 

Performances will run on the 19th, 20th, 21st, 26th, 27th and 28th of february at the Cell Block Theatre in Darlinghurst, tickets are essential and can be booked here.

*Please note body nudity will be included as part of the exhibition and performances.*

Beyond the Binary: Gender and Intersectionality in the Cultural Sector

Monday February 22nd 6PM

National Art School, Darlinghurt and Online

If you’re studying fine arts, social sciences or just wanting to learn more about the challenges that non-binary and gender diverse people face navigating spaces then this interactive in person and webinar panel event is for you. While this event operates under the lens of the arts sector, it offers an opportunity to hear about the lives and obstacles gender diverse people face not only in social settings but within their place of work. 

Speakers include Jeff Khan - Moderator and Artistic Director at Performance Space and Liveworks, Jain Moralee - Co-Executive Director of Twenty10, general Manager of Queer Screens (2009-2013) and Tea Uglow - Creative Director at Google Arts & Culture. 

Tickets range from $27.46 for in person sessions and $15 for online screenings and can be purchased here, however if you are a SAMAG member, access to these events are FREE. 

My Trans Story

Friday February 26th 6PM

NSW Teachers Federation and Online

The trans experience is becoming more visible and accepted, however we still rarely see stories by trans and gender diverse people that reflect the diversity that exists within the community. Instead the focus is too often directed towards coming out stories, surgery or discrimination and hate crimes. 

This is your opportunity to hear six stories from a diverse range of experiences showcasing that the trans experience is about more than gender dysphoria, surgery and marginalisation but that these stories can also contain human stories full of love, laughter, curiosity, triumphs and hope. 

Featuring Andrew Guy, Joël Murray, Olivia Stewart, Rusty Nannup, Tea Uglow, Victoria Anthony and Curated by Peta Friend. This event takes place at the NSW Teachers federation tickets can be purchased here and range from $29-39, alternatively you can also stream the event live for $9 by purchasing your virtual ticket here

Purchase your tickets here

Queer thinking

Saturday February 27th 2PM to 8PM

NSW Teachers Federation and Online

The Queer thinking stage has often been the highlight of my Mardi Gras Calendar. Featuring a wide array of speakers and storytellers, it’s basically TED Talks for the queer community. This years speakers are covering a wide array of topics from dating when you are different, future challenges the LGBTIQ+ community face and what it’s like being LGBTIQ+ and living in a country where you can be jailed or killed for being who you are. 

Queer Thinking Dating When Your different 2PM

Queer Thinking: The Fights Ahead with Benjamin Law 4PM

Queer Thinking: Rising up for ‘GAYRABIA’ with Patrick Abboud 6PM

Tickets range from $9 to $29 and can be accessed in person or online

Queer Screen’s 28th Mardigras Film Festival

Thursday February 18th 6PM to Thursday March 4th 9PM

Participating Venues Across Sydney and Online

Fancy yourself a film buff or looking to move into the world of film and television? 

The Queer Screens Film Festival program has over 90 films on the program with 50% of them available to stream on-demand. 

The festival features key films and events which discuss themes of intimacy coordinating and documentaries which tackle the subject of trans representation, the history of mass incarceration of queer black and latinex folks in the 80’s and the historical moment when homosexuality was demedicalised and no longer listed as a mental illness. 

To see the full offering of the program, visit the Queer Screen Festival Website

Sydney Queer Formal

Saturday February 27th 7PM,

Online Event

Miss Rona really got us down in 2020, and for some that meant not having a formal. But that’s not stopping LGBTIQ+ Youth organisation Minus18 from putting on their annual inclusive Queer formal Only this time they’re taking it online. 

The event is for youth ages 12 - 19 only, its completely free and feature live performances from musical and drag artists across Australia. Striving to be as accessible as possible the event is also Auslan interpreted and features no strobe lighting to ensure everyone can enjoy the event. 

To register for the event, head to their eventbrite page and you’ll be sent a zoom link 

King of Kings Competiton brought to you by Heaps Say and Sydny Kings

Saturday February 27th 7PM 

Max Watt’s House of Music, Moore Park

Too old for the Queer formal but still looking for some fun? 

The art of Drag is well known within the LGBTIQ+ community, however the resurgence and popularism of Drag Kings are forging a new path of what it means to gender bend. Hosted by the incredible Marlena Dali and brought to you by the grew at Heaps Gay and Sydny Kings this is sure to be a night you wont forget. Tickets are available for purchase here and range from $39-49.

Consider yourself a bit of a king yourself? The team at Heaps Gay and Sydny Kings have made a call out to all daddies, fly fellas and cool dudes to strut their stuff on the stage. There are two categories: “Baby Kings” and “The Ultimate King Of Kings 2021” if you think you have what it takes, register to perform here

Obsessed Boylesque

Tuesday March 2nd 7PM & 9:45PM

Stonewall Hotel, Darlinghurst

Did you hear that burlesque isn’t just for girls anymore? Boylesque are back, bringing you a new ballsy (literally) routine to the Stonewall stage. If you’re looking for something a little different to fill your tuesday night between drowning in readings, why not head to the iconic Stonewall hotel to see these boys show you a good time? If you’re familiar with the art of traditional burlesque then it’s best to leave your expectations at the door, because this is surely something you haven’t seen before. 

You can book tables of 4, 6 or 8 people, however if you’re taking yourself out for a night on the town, individual tickets will be sat at the bar (so you won’t have to wait long for that cocktail refill). Tickets range from $43.29 - 53.84 and can be booked here.

Broken Heel Takeover X The Imperial

Tuesday March 2nd 6PM to Sunday March 7th 10PM

Imperial Hotel, Erskenville

The Imperial is steeped in Queer history, most notably known for its appearance in the iconic Australian film Priscilla Queen of the Desert (if you havent seen it, please do). This Mardi Gras, the equally iconic Broken Heel Festival, unable to go forth last year due to COVID is bringing the festival to the Imperial for an entire week!

Over five jam packed days, featuring both the Broken Heel Glambassadors and the finest imperial Drag Divas (some rumored to be appearing in the Australian season of Ru Pauls Drag Race) will be serving you a sizzling line up of workshops, shows and events. So if you're a budding queen, a committed hag or just want to experience the glitz and glam of a drag show, this is where you want to be.  

Most events are free entry, but do require a booking. So be sure to head to The Imperial’s website or Facebook to keep up to date with events and updates.


It goes without saying that while it’s gay christmas and we’re all very excited to be able to socialise again and engage with our community, everyone’s health and safety should always be top priority. If you are feeling a little under the weather, have travelled outside of NSW or within a COVID hotspot area in the last 14 days please get tested and isolate before endangering anyone within the community. 

Some of these events require masks, social distancing and further restrictions on dancing and singing. To find out how to stay safe while having a good time, check the COVID safe details at each event or speak to the venue for more information.