‘It’s going to mean a lot more’: 2018 Sydney Mardi Gras marks major milestones

It’s the 40th anniversary, organisers are expecting record crowds and last year Australia legalised same-sex marriage

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2018, 10:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2018, 10:42pm

Last year, the theme was about protesting for marriage equality. This year, Griff – who spent the afternoon in Surry Hills making a giant silver shoe – heard somebody was going to get married at Taylor Square. A lot can happen in a year.

But that is just one reason this year will be special for the thousands of people gathering today at the foot of Oxford Street for the 2018 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

It is of course also the 40th anniversary of the inaugural march: a night of protest by more than a thousand people along Oxford Street’s bars and clubs that ended with its leaders arrested and brutalised by police.

This time around, the Mardi Gras is expected to be one of the biggest yet. For the first time, organisers have placed a limit on the number of floats – 200 floats and 12,000 people – from the 300 applications. They are also expecting a record half a million attendees.

‘Move forward, not backwards’: UN human rights chief warns Indonesia over LGBT crackdown, anti-gay sentiment

The 78ers – those original marchers – will have the biggest float, 250-strong. For many, the confluence of this historic anniversary and last year’s landmark marriage equality win has made this a particularly special year.

Griff, with fellow organiser Mick and float leader Teresa, have spent the day in Surry Hills attaching wings to a big shoe for their Evolution Dancers and Divas float.

Their float is a musical tribute to the four decades of queer music since the 1978 march.

“We’re tipping our hat to all the venues that have closed, to remind ourselves of what Oxford street culture used to be like,” Teresa said.

They have been told that they have the original shoe from the film Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. They’ll be attaching three-metre wings and will have 80 dancers behind it dressed as Madonna and George Michael dancing to Tina Turner, Ce Ce Peniston and Kylie Minogue.

All three think this year’s event will have added significance.

“It’s going to mean a lot more to people,” said Griff. “This event is never going to happen again, when it’s the 40th anniversary as well as the first Mardi Gras where people can actually get married.”

Mick added: “It’s always a celebration, but on top of that, you’re celebrating same sex marriage. It’s exponential celebration.”

As part of the festivities, Sydney’s lockout laws have been lifted for tonight, and Cher is headlining the after-party.

An Olympics open to all – Hong Kong confirmed as official 2022 host but what exactly are the Gay Games?

Speaking on Saturday morning to the ABC, director Greg Clarke even hinted that she would make a surprise appearance at the march. He also had to face questions about the increasingly corporate nature of the event, which some participants blamed for this year’s cap on floats.

“I don’t think it is [fair criticism],” he said. “There are 200 floats and probably nine corporate floats.”

In the lead-up, local independent MP Alex Greenwich and others, have kept up the pressure in targeting the next steps in Australian LGBTI rights. “There is more work to be done,” he wrote on Wednesday. “Transgender Australians were disgracefully targeted by the no side in the postal survey and deserve our community advocacy.”

Teresa said the memory of that “brutal” postal survey would bring out members of the queer community who otherwise think Mardi Gras isn’t for them.

“It’s 40 years on, and everyone fought so hard I think the community will come out, even if it's not their thing, just to finally have something to celebrate. Like the cherry on top.”