Countdown on as floats prepare to celebrate Mardi Gras
With the excitement near palpable, the sequins flying, and toned bodies being put through their dance moves one final time, more than 10,000 people from the LGBTIQ community and their friends and allies are preparing to march at tonight’s eagerly awaited Sydney Mardi Gras Parade as the festival celebrates its 35th birthday.
Over 110 groups will take part in the annual Parade, with many floats taking inspiration from the ‘Generations of Love’ theme to highlight the importance of links to the past, the social and legal battles won by members of the LGBTIQ community and the need to support each other going forward to see a world of greater acceptance and diversity.
Leading the way will be the 78ers float, involving at least 70 if not 100 people who can lay claim to being at the very first celebration and protest march that sparked it all off in 1978.
Steve Warren, co-ordinator of the 78ers float, tells SX parade participants and viewers should expect to see a very special moment in Taylor Square tonight when the double-decker bus they are travelling in reaches there.
“We will be ‘passing of the baton’ from one generation to another symbolised through the raising of the Rainbow Flag.
“Some may be wondering why the ‘35th Anniversary’ – sadly we’ve lost some of our leaders and peer over the years including Lance Gowland who drove the first and only float in ‘78,” he says.
“Sadly by the 40th we will lose more of our members, hence we thought along with Mardi Gras that it was very fitting to mark the 35th.”
In contrast to the 78ers, personnel from Australia’s Defence Force (ADF) will be marching in the Parade for the first time in their uniforms, with homosexual and heterosexual members taking part to show support for equality and workplace inclusion.
“I am pleased to see that ADF members who serve their nation with pride, who put their lives on the line, are finally able to march in the uniforms they wear day-in and day-out,” Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator David Feeney, says.
“This is a decision that not everyone will agree with, but it is a fair decision and it is the right decision. I fully support this move.
“It is a rewarding moment when our ADF can be who they were born to be and to be proud of it – I am proud of each and every one of them.”
Having been a longtime supporter of LGBTI rights, Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, will join Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich for what will be one float assured to receive plenty of cheers. In a moving display, the pair has invited the family of gay American man Scott Johnson, believed to have been the victim of a gay hate crime in the late 1980s, to take part in the float.
Johnson’s brother Steve, his nephews Ruben and Daniel Glick – the investigative journalist who uncovered new information to have an earlier suicide verdict overturned – will wear ‘Justice for Scott Johnson’ t-shirts and hand out ‘Justice for Scott Johnson’ fridge magnets in the hope of encouraging people with knowledge of anti-gay violence in Manly in the 1980s to come forward.
Meanwhile, the newly launched Carmen Rupe Memorial Trust (CRMT) will return for the second year in a row with a float, with this year’s entry themed ‘Love My Polynesia’ – which builds on the ‘Sea of Love’ concept the group had so much success with last year.
“We’ve expanded our colourful marching group to over 100 people, once again led by the utterly amazing dancers from Spirit of the Islands and Tropical Island Hula who were there with us last year,” CRMT spokesperson Kelly Glanney tells SX.
“This year’s parade celebrates 35 generations of Love, so we want to remind everyone that long before there was a gay rights movement or a Mardi Gras Parade, there was Carmen and those other brave pioneers of her generation – standing tall in the face of adversity and blazing a trail for all of us who’ve followed.”
Always popular and well received, ACON will be back with a float this year that reflects their new Ending HIV campaign which aims to educate gay men about how recent advances in testing technologies and HIV treatments can help end the HIV epidemic.
“More than 250 staff, volunteers and supporters will take part, including 40 marchers wearing specially designed sandwich boards emblazoned with the campaign’s striking black and white artwork,” ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill tells SX.
Warren, from the 78ers, tells SX that with the likes of the ADF, police, large multinational corporations, and even conservative politicians taking part, a lot really has changed since he and a few dozen other brave souls decided to take to Taylor Square all those years ago.
“So much has changed since 1978 when we lived in the most amazing gay culture in Sydney but when we stepped outside of the safety of our Oxford Street cocoon we were confronted with a world of oppression, violence, illegality and social opposition,” he says.
“Thanks to that struggle for GLBTQI equality, including those before and after ‘78, we are proud to live in a world that is more understanding and accepting of who we are. Sadly though until all inequality and discrimination is eliminated our battle is not over.”
[IMAGE] The ACON float at the 2012 Sydney Mardi Gras (Robert Knapman)