Happy Mardi Gras Anniversary! For those that do not know Mardis Gras is a gay pride parade held every year in Oxford Street in Sydney. The last couple of years the parade has come under scrutiny for promoting sex and promiscuous lifestyle over actual gay rights. While these arguments do hold some merit, there are a couple of floats of perfect ab, slim, toned barely dressed boys waving feather boas and donning leather caps, it is not all about this.
I was fortunate enough to march in a marriage equality float a couple of years ago and you may recall my blogpost about this. It was the most invigorating and brave thing I have ever done and I will never forget it as long as I live. I do want to do it again I just need a few years to pluck up that courage again!
That being said here is the reason I am writing today, 35 years ago today, around 10pm on Saturday 24 June 1978, several hundred gays, lesbians and straight supporters – some in fancy dress and some simply rugged up against the cold – gathered at Taylor Square and followed a truck with a small music and sound system down Oxford Street to Hyde Park.
Little did those witnessing and partaking in the march know, this was to be the start of Mardi Gras, and would become a defining moment in the country’s gay rights history.
Today, 35 years later, we honour the bravery and passion of our pioneers, as we continue the journey which they began. Back at the time of the march it was all about equal rights for homosexuals, something that a lot of young people today take too much for granted.
Looking at our society now, we are fighting for equal marriage rights in this country, something that with our current prime minister seems like it will be a long time off. Is it something that we can simply request and it happens? No
It is something that we can write letters, campaigns, build our community and march for? Hell yes we can! It baffles me completely why more is not being done to further the cause. So far the only thing close to resembling this is the Rainbow Crossing movement, and I don’t think I have to explain my feelings about that fiasco.
We are living in one of the most privilged and bountiful countries on the planet and it may seem a little selfish and egotistical to fight for equal marriage rights when comparing our problems to anyone else’s, but it does stand to reason that we should do more. As homosexuals we have become stereotyped by the media, forced to become comic relief rather than strong characters in society.
Before I keep drifting off topic here I wanted to pay homage to these trailblazers, these heroes who stood up so bravely in a society of hate and intolerance. We can never understand or fathom how hard this would have been. Being openly bashed and abused by the police, the very people who we are led to believe are there to protect us still baffles my brain and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for setting a shining example.
One of the most horrific stories is that of Peter Murphy who recently did an interview with news.com.au about what happened to him that very first parade.
““They took me along a long corridor in the police station through a U-shaped route into a room and then just beat the hell out of me,” Mr Murphy told NEWS.com.au as part of our 30th anniversary Mardi Gras special.
“There were two police officers who did that – one in particular – bashing me with their fists in the head and saying ‘you’re not so smart now are you’.”
Mr Murphy said he was beaten solidly until a blow to the solar plexus floored him. He was thrown into a solitary cell where he could hear protesters gathered outside chanting his name.
“They tried to break my leg but fortunately the bones didn’t snap,” he said. “I was (literally) pissing my pants.”
I have never experienced anything like this and hope to never have to. As the brave men marched down Oxford Street and reached Darlinghurst Road where a police blockade was waiting for them and arrested 53 and were charged for being in an illegal procession, hindering police and resisting arrest.
When I marched in Mardis Gras I was not feeling threatened by the police, in fact they actually helped me when I fell over to get me off the road (teach me to try and walk in heels!)
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Mr Murphy and all the other brave pioneers who took a chance and walked Oxford Street with their heads held high, prepared to fight for what is right. Every year I try and reflect on this day what I can do to help my community and I hope that a post like this gets shared around for others to read and do the same. No matter where you are today, if you are reading this stop for a few minutes to thank these brave soldiers who will march on forever in our hearts.
Happy 35th Anniversary!