It’s one of the best, most colourful and exciting times of the year to be out and about in the streets of Sydney- it’s Mardi Gras season. The weeks in the lead up to Mardi Gras are ones filled with joy, celebration, remembrance and activism. It’s a time where we all come together to champion the achievements of our LGBTQI+ community and reflect on our historic moments in time. It hasn’t all been smooth, glittery sailing either. But through hardships and turmoil has come awareness and community engagement, and as each year we continue to acknowledge the importance of acceptance and equality, Sydney keeps becoming a city with a fantastic culture that honours our LGBTQI+ citizens year-round.

On a cold night in 1978, a small group of protesters took to the streets of Darlinghurst to contribute to international Gay Celebrations. What began as an effort to peacefully celebrate our gay and lesbian community soon became violent, resulting in police arrests and violence. Witnesses, and the first-hand stories of those affected, are stomach churning in their recalling, with the cries of those beaten and in pain ringing out across police stations. The media published the 53 names of those arrested, which lead to segregation as many of the listed individuals were ‘outed’, meaning their sexuality was now known to their families, friends and employers. Some lost their jobs, others were estranged from families, and many received backlash in their neighbourhoods, fearing for their own safety. It paints a dark image of what Sydney once was, and to this day, only 41 years from these scenes, the emotions from 1978 run deep within our community.

These protesters became known as the 78ers, the original movement starters for championing gay rights in Sydney and across Australia. Despite hardships and a community in shatters, the 78ers continued to pick up the pieces to form the second ever Mardi Gras parade the following year in 1979. Against anti-gay media, businesses and political opinions, a crowd of 3,000 marched down Oxford Street calling for equality, acceptance and human rights. The theme of the parade was ‘Power in the Darkness’, a fitting tribute to those who suffered at the hands of violence the previous year. While there was large and powerful police presence, no arrests were made. A small win for the LGBTQI+ community, who from this date have grown Sydney Mardi Gras into a cultural calendar event that has lead us to gay marriage, community awareness, acceptance and love.

TODAY, WE ARE FEARLESS.

When you fast forward to 2019, we’ve come such a long way as a city and as whole nation. In December of 2017, we achieved the rights to gay marriage, an immense step in the right direction for a better and more equal future. We’ve celebrated community change in neighbourhoods, businesses, in policing and in government. We’ve educated in the face of an AIDS crisis and saved lives. We’ve accepted the hundreds and thousands of identities each person belongs to. All of this would be nothing without the sacrifice of the 78ers. And each year, we continue to cheer and clap those who parade down Oxford Street as an act of love, elation and commemoration. It doesn’t matter how you celebrate Mardi Gras, but it matters that we continue to celebrate it, and continue to work on change and evolution to create a city that prides itself on LGBTQI+ acceptance and opportunity.

Sydney as a city is an incredibly diverse and culturally aware place that has hundreds of events, hubs and community groups that facilitate education, offer fun, create arts and run workshops for our LGBTQI+ community. Without Mardi Gras and the integral marches we hold each year, we wouldn’t have organisations like ACON, First Nations Rainbow or Twenty10 that support, uplift and create a safe space for our LGBTQI+ neighbours. We wouldn’t have incredible charities, like the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation or Positive Life NSW who fight for the health of these community members when they’re facing hardship. We wouldn’t have our inspiring arts organisations, like Queer Screen or Performance Space, who promote, grow and foster our diverse artists and create a platform to showcase their voices. All of these organisations, spaces and places make up who we are and foster the cultural city of Sydney, which thrives off our people, the arts, these institutions and the creative contributions of our community as a whole.

Sydney Mardi Gras has, and always will be, a beacon of hope for the future of our LGBTQI+ community. Whether you’re rural or a local, this city is a place where all are welcomed and accepted. Each year, the parade showcases stories from diverse backgrounds, each breaking down cultural and societal barriers to make way for others to tell their stories too. From founding groups for transgender children to highlighting queer First Nations people, Sydney Mardi Gras has been the strong foundation needed to make change. It’s a celebration of all of our achievements, big and small, that have created the strong city we are today. So whether you head to the local gay bar or watch an experimental performance on stage, your actions help contribute to a culture which promotes LGBTQI+ people at the forefront of who we are. We are a global, connected and community-driven city, and it’s all thanks to those brave 78ers for taking the leap of faith to get us where we are today.

With thanks to Katherine Griffiths, Time Out Magazine, Jeffrey Feng,
SBS Australia and the 78ers for their imagery.