SYDNEY Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was celebrated on Saturday night, attracting some 300,000 spectators to watch 12,300 participants in a record-breaking parade.
A milestone year – marking the parade’s 40th anniversary and the first event since Australia legalised gay marriage last year – organisers said the turnout was the largest to date, making it the “world’s biggest celebration of the LGBTQI community”.
“The participation of every single person in this year’s special anniversary Parade helped produce a dazzling display of self-expression, reflection and celebration. In its fourth decade, this was our most iconic Parade yet and one that will go down in history,” said the Mardi Gras CEO Terese Casu in a statement.
The parade consisted of 200 floats and groups of street dancers and was headed by Dykes on Bikes, a motorcycle club.
“Beyond the glitter, flamboyance and satire, there were so many floats reminding us of the serious issues. Acceptance, inclusivity, diversity, respect,” said Casu.
Those involved in the original event on June 24, 1978 were honoured in 2018. Having conduced a peaceful march for gay rights, it was then marred police brutality with 53 people arrested in subsequent scuffles.
Police have since apologised for the events of 1978 and now march each year in the parade alongside other emergency services.
Bruce Pollack, a Mardi Gras volunteer since 1984, said the parade has played a major role in changing attitudes toward the LGBT community over the decades.
“I was involved in the gay and lesbian counseling service … you would always hear young gays, and older gays, and much older gays say ‘it’s OK to come out because I saw people like me in the parade enjoying themselves – and there were spectators’,” Pollack told Reuters.
“It was Mardi Gras that made it OK to be gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender.”
Activists calling themselves the “Department of Homo Affairs” unfurled a banner reading “Turn back the float. Justice for refugees” and stopped the ruling Liberal Party’s float, in protest over the government’s asylum seeker policies.
But pop superstar Cher was the star of the show, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull posting a selfie with her on his Twitter account.
“I love that everybody is having such a good time and there’s no feeling of any kind of anger, there’s no negativity and that’s what I like most,” said Cher as quoted by The Australian.
“All the people with everything hanging out, and fabulous girls with their slap on and big hair and no clothes – I love it.”
Additional reporting from Reuters.