With 150 floats and 300,000 spectators, the 30th anniversary Mardi Gras Parade was indeed a spectacle as 10,000 participants danced their way along the 1.6km parade route under mercifully cloudless skies.
Snapshots from the 2008 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras y. Photos by Justin Ellis.
Graeme Browning, Mardi Gras creative director asked all those attending the parade to hold hands in a show of solidarity for Craig Gee and Shane Brennan, the couple who were holding hands when they were brutally attacked in December 2007. The couple, returning to Oxford Street for the first time since the attack, accompanied Head of Parade, Margaret Cho.
"Mardi Gras is a big thing for us," said Shane Brennen. "This is our chance to celebrate and thank the community, they have stood by us." Craig Gee encouraged "people not to be ashamed of their homosexuality and to stand up and be counted."
The representation of religious and ethnic groups was unprecedented this year. Calling themselves 100 Revs, a group of ministers from the Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal and Uniting churches marched for the first time to apologise for the exclusion and mistreatment of the lesbian and gay community. The congregation from the Metropolitan Community Church waved 'Would Jesus discriminate?' placards while the Sydney Jewish group Dayenu did a traditional dance to celebrate the Union of Progressive Judaism's support of same gender commitment ceremonies.
Beit el Hob (a Middle Eastern group of queer Arabs and their friends) member Nassim Arrage said Mardi Gras offers people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds a rare opportunity.
"For people who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds Mardi Gras is a unique experience because we're dealing with homophobia in our communities, but we're also dealing with racism in gay and lesbian communities. So when we are in groups that represent our identities we can be a whole person rather than being gay on the one hand and Arab on the other so on our float all of our identities can come together."
Other religious groups included Acceptance Sydney, a group for LGBT Catholics, whose Popemobile received cheers from the crowd.
Humour extended to the Asian floats, in particular Bar Up - the Bali and Regions Unique People, who along with their usual sarong clad, gold painted boys and girls included an ecstatic Schapelle Corby, who had taken leave of her cell in Kerobokan Prison. Float organiser Omar Assegaf said the team had held monthly fundraisers in Bali to get the group to Sydney and join the members who live in Australia.
"The Bali Rainbow Community is now very united and supported by all the main businesses on the island. We keep coming back because it is one of the biggest festivals in the world, and we want to welcome the world to Bali," said Assegaf,
Thai'D Together continued to grow reaching over 70 participants this year. Float organiser Amy Chanta said they have been doing it for about 15 years.
"This year we have a big group and we have a truck with lights and sound and some special guests from Thailand who brought all of the traditional costumes with them. It's up to the spectators to guess whether the marchers are girls or boys!" The guests included the popular TV show hostess Surivipa. "This is my first time to Australia and the Mardi Gras. I want to show people in Thailand the parade and show them how the Thai community in Australia live."
The Asian Marching Boys celebrated their 10th parade with a bigger, more vibrant float, producer Wayne Daly said. "The group is growing and our float encapsulates the whole concept of Mardi Gras and what we have set out to do and have achieved over the last ten years, which is to incorporate the entire community into our group. We've got guys, girls, those identified as straight as well as gay and lesbian. It's a great mix, not necessarily all Asian."
"We've tried to get people together from other Asian groups but I think they are quite happy to do their own thing, and they don't really want to be identified as a super Asian group. Time will tell, maybe we can do that one year."
The theme this year was Join Together for Equality with the IBM EAGLE (Employee Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Empowerment at IBM) float and the ANZ Bank float - Banking on a World of Diversity - representing big business. Defence: Support Diversity, the Australian Defence Forces first time Mardi Gras float echoed this theme.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities' float One Love was inspired by the RuPaul movie Starrbooty. Michelle Sparks, team leader at Aboriginal Project at ACON said the float showcased the diversity of the indigenous community. Tribal elders rode in a Cadillac at the front of the float with dancers in traditional and modern costumes partying on behind.
Anal is for Everyone, who tattooed their message on their bodies, reminded the crowd that consensual sodomy acts are still illegal in around 70 of the 195 countries of the world.
As Korean-American comedian Margaret Cho said on Saturday, "you don't have to make a choice between being an activist and having some fun."
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great to see sydney get so incredibly gay for a week or so. on coming home, the odd thing to see was a straight couple embracing in a shopping centre after having seen so many guys with guys and girls with girls, holding hands and being so damn natural. good on you all!
congratulations sydney and new mardi gras!!!
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