There are a few pink milestones in every gay man’s life: coming out, first time in drag, first bottle being thrown at you for holding another man’s hand and marching in a gay pride parade.
Today’s post is about the most famous such parade: the Sydney Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras began 1978 as a gay rights march down Oxford Street, still the main gay street in Sydney and 17,000km from Oxford, UK. The police disregarded the permit of the demonstration and disbanded the march as well as arresting 57 of the demonstrators. The police later dropped the charges, but it was too late. The media ‘justice’ had fallen as the Sydney Morning Herald published the name of the arrested individuals, outing them and causing many of them to lose their jobs.
These injustices only served to galvanize the gay community and they returned, year after year, demanding an end to discrimination and equal rights regardles of whom you love.
Today, the Sydney Mardi Gras has grown to a three-week long festival and is one of Australia’s largest tourism ‘attractions’, annually earning the state of New South Wales about 30 million Australian dollars. (See how much nicer it is to work with us than against us?)
The Mardi Gras season kicks of three weeks before the parade with Fair Day. Seventy-thousand LGBTQI individuals + pets descend on Victoria Park for a day of revelry. Every organization with a hint of pink put up stalls to promote themselves. My favourite was Google, an official sponsor of Mardi Gras, that gave out tattoos and pins of a cute Android bot waving the rainbow flag. (No show for Apple…) A close second was the sexy gay Rugby club, the Sydney Convicts, for obvious carnal reasons.
There is some entertainment organized such as the main stage with various acts, a few carousels and an outdoor dance area. But personally, I liked the simple pleasure of slowly getting drunk in a park and people watch.
If you are new to Sydney and Mardi Gras, Fair Day is a great place to find out what is going on during the Mardi Gras season, including the many commendable charity events.
The Little Black Dress Run (and other charity events)
Not everything in the gay community is sunshine and rainbows. There are social issues that require work, ranging from political lobbying for equal rights to someone lending an understanding ear to a teenager afraid of coming out of the closet.
Most of this social good is funded through charities and the amazing volunteers that make them possible. Mardi Gras is like a great wave of attention and money washing over Sydney, and the charities ride it like a skilled surfer. These events are not just important for the community but also a lot of fun. There is something for everyone, from Gay Bingo to Slave Auctions.
The most fun event I participated in was the Little Black Dress Run. Men and women alike dress in their finest little black dress and go for a mass run. We were heavily rained on, but who cares? It was still a fun morning and the event raised a whopping 46,000 Ozzy dollars for children born with HIV.
The Harbour Party (and other parties)
The Sydney gay life is generous with parties and sexy men even at the worst of times. During Mardi Gras, the city cranks up the heat to hot hot hot! The city is teeming with sexy guys, many having travelled from all over the world. (Charmingly referred to as ‘the imports’ by the locals.) There are a host of parties to service the crowds, but they are sadly extraordinarily expensive. If you are a fellow money-light travel-heavy nomad, expect to sigh and say no a lot when people ask which parties you’re going to.
But I had to go to at least one party to have something to write about. (How I suffer for you, my dear reader.) There are two main parties during Mardi Gras. The biggest one is the one right after the parade. From hearsay, I understand that its main selling point is the size, but size alone does not impress me (insert obvious joke here) and so I went with the second big event, the Harbour Party.
The Harbour Party is an outdoor afternoon-evening party located in the Botanical Gardens with a stellar view of the harbour, the opera house and the bridge. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun at a party. The music was great, the energy positive, the mood flirtatious, the boys sexy and the venue amazing. A light rain joined the party but instead of ruining the mood, it improved it as all those semi-naked bodies now glistened wet and cool!
Reading about someone else’s party is about as much fun as hearing about a stranger’s million dollar lottery winnings, so I’ll stop here.
The Mardi Gras Parade
The climax of Mardi Gras is of course the parade, drawing about 9,000 participants and 300,000 spectators! It is an opportunity for the disparate groups of the LGBTQI community to celebrate their existence. Non-LGBTQI groups are also there to show their support for our cause. And of course, it is a whole lot of fun!
There are two ways to experience the parade. The first is to camp out with the rest of the world by the side of the street, playing yahtzee and making friends during the long hours wait for the parade. Don’t expect to get a good view if you are not out early, or so I’m told. I chose to experience the parade by being in it!
You can’t just rock up and join the parade. You must join one of the organizations marching in the parade. If you arrive in the city a few weeks ahead and ask around, this shouldn’t be so hard to achieve. Fair Day is the perfect place to do this. I got two offers and joined the Leather Pride group. (Any excuse for wearing my leather!)
Joining the parade is a whole lot of fun. You get to prepare for the march with the rest of the participants in the gated preparation area. This is one big party in itself, and you get to get up and close (and intimate!) with the participants in their gorgeous costumes.
During the parade itself, expect to be cheered along by hundreds of thousands people, all waving and snapping pictures. My arms almost fell off from hugging so many people all along the way, and I lost my voice long before I reached the end. Talk about a rush!
As mentioned above, I couldn’t afford to go to the post-parade party. But I didn’t exactly go home either. Dick Savvy (Mr Leather of Sydney) invited me to another party, Velvet Hammer, and gave me a leather straitjacket to wear along with a new set of leather pants! I’ve worn many weird and wonderful costumes in my days, bit this one didn’t just take the biscuit; it ran away with the whole damn cookie jar! I had a great night (try drinking tequila shots in a straitjacket) and I want to end this article with a sincere thank you to Dick for taking me under his wing and to the rest of the Sydney gay community for a fantastic Mardi Gras!