Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras kicked off with a glittery bang Saturday night- with a parade that would make Liberace blush.
200 floats and thousands of performers danced down the rainbow painted Oxford Street to show their support for the LGBTIQ community. Wearing anything from fairy wings, full drag, bondage or nothing at all, the parade and accompanying party was truly a sight to behold.
So what does Mardi Gras have to do with pancakes?
Mardi Gras is a French term meaning “Fat Tuesday”. Historically a religious event, it was a day of indulgence before the fasting of Lent began. An excuse to celebrate, have sex and use up all the flour, eggs and butter to make PANCAKES! Which makes sense seeing as "Fat Tuesday" is also known as “Pancake Tuesday.”
Whatever you choose to call it, Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday” or “Pancake Day” is entrenched in Australian life.
Mardi Gras began in Sydney on June 24, 1978, as a protest of the homophobic Festival of Light campaigner Mary Whitehouse's visit to Australia and has since grown into the event it is today. But in 1978 and subsequent years it was met with protest and police violence.
Hundreds of Gay, Lesbian and Straight supporters gathered in Taylor Square, on June 24, 1978, some in costume and others rugged up in blankets to march down Oxford street alongside a lead float to Hyde Park. The police harassed the crowd, and upon reaching Hyde Park the float was confiscated and the driver arrested. The police closed off William Street and arrested 53 men and women.
From there Mardi Gras gained national and international traction, generating an estimated $38 million for the NSW economy.
By the early 2000s, Mardi Gras required full-time staff and had its own travel agency. Unfortunately and surprisingly Mardi Gras went into receivership in March 2002, after which community organisers intervened recreating and rebranding the event to “New Mardi Gras”. After a turbulent history, Mardi Gras has evolved into one of the world’s biggest and best LGBTQI marches and festivals.
Rene Rivas who donned a frilled, rainbow ball gown this year has been celebrating Mardi Gras for 35 years, She explains:
I think one of the best things about Mardi Gras is the cultural celebration and diversity for all Australians it gives
Mardi Gras continues to be a celebration of acceptance, but arguably Australia still has far to go.
Canada has made leaps and bounds towards equality- legalising gay marriage in 2003. Recognising that marriage is a “central institution” and therefore should be an equal and unbiased institution.
Whether Australia will see this change in marriage legislation by Mardi Gras' 40th birthday next year remains uncertain.
But the LGBTQI community and supporters will continue to march in the hope that marriage equality will be as widely accepted as eating pancakes any day of the week.