I'm super pleased that I marched (with Rainbow Youth) in Auckland's Pride Parade. It's given me a real appreciation for the value of celebrating pride, and it's also put into perspective just how absolutely huge Sydney Mardi Gras is.
Seriously. I have never seen so many queer and trans* people in one place at one time and what an impression they made last night. The first thing I noticed when we got to Oxford St before Mardi Gras was just how much effort everyone had put into creating outfits to watch the parade in. It made for an incredible atmosphere. People were really getting into the spirit of it. No one was too shy to dish out or get a free hug, to take or be in your photo, or to offer a 'happy mardi gras!' to strangers passing by.
Of course the atmosphere was just the appetizer to the main event. As the light started to fade across Darlinghurst and the sky held its belly full of rain, Dykes on Bikes came hurling down Oxford St to start off the show. At that point the noise of their engines was possibly surpassed by the roaring of the crowd - the spectators' hours of waiting for action was relieved with the revving of damn fine motorbikes and the waves and winks of the ladies on top of them.
Once Dykes on Bikes had rode off into the night the parade entrants were lead out in the only way possible: By the original 78' parade crew then the Australian Defence Forces who marched in uniform for the first time. I had a lump in my float as I watched the Navy, Army, Air Force, Fire Services and Police walk into the night, all in uniforms, all in time, all with their heads held high. What a moment to be part of. For my partner Jessica, it was all the little bit more meaningful as she's currently trying to get into the New Zealand Navy. For her and every other queer or trans* person who sees their future as being with the forces, there is nothing more affirming than knowing your sexual or gender identity would be accepted in the work place and celebrated with pride. Although today's tragic story about Corporal Douglas Hughes is a reminder there's still a long way to go towards equality in this sector, I'm convinced that allowing Defence Force members to march in uniform is a good place to start.
During the media briefing on Friday the parade organisers commented that all they do is set the theme for the parade then leave it up to the participants to style their floats. Once all entries have been received they start the process of deciding what order to send them marching in. On the night it was clear to see what a huge job this would have been as there were just so many floats - 110 in total. After the Defence Forces marched the entrants were divided into categories and it blew my mind how many different ones there were.
First came community groups. Everything from Rainbow Children and Families, to support groups to health organisations marched by. Each float was decorated with sparkles and sequins and choreographed dances. Then there were activist groups - all with a message to share, all with polished performances and hand painted signs - a real community effort. There were then religious floats with Christians apologising for the way their faith had treated queer and trans* folk, political floats with all the major parties celebrating their rainbow members, floats from Camberra and Perth and all around Australia, cultural floats, sporting group floats, floats celebrating sexual energy and good times. Then there were marching boys and dancing girls, queens and drag kings, singers and performers, the diversity of entrants was truly incredible and somewhat overwhelming.
Without being there it's hard to appreciate just how huge this parade is and just how different Sydney's scene is to anything in New Zealand. To put it in perspective, there are a dozen streets that have the vibe of K Road, and a handful of suburbs that could all be Ponsonby or Grey Lynn - queer and trans* life is just on a different scale here and that is reflected in the sheer size of the parade. I could write pages more about Mardi Gras and across-the-ditch comparisons, but that would get a bit dull so I'll leave you with my top five moments from last night:
1) Walking along behind the scenes as the floats were getting ready and chatting with a member of the Sydney Convicts, Australia's first gay inclusive Rugby Union Club, about how there's no place for homophobia in sport and him telling me he's a straight guy playing for the team - now that's how diversity should be - we're all in this together!
2) Said (very cute) member running over to the media area and giving me a huge hug as the Convicts marched out onto Oxford St.
3)Seeing the Defence Forces and Police march for the first time in uniforms, with pride and openess. Spine tingling.
4) Dykes on Bikes. I had no idea just how amazing they would be to watch. Not all butch dykes, not all femmes, just a beautiful mix of women on bikes - impressive.
5) Macquarie Grammar School. Wow - just so happy that a high school decided to put a float forward and let its students march. The school says it's entry comes with a public protest to Sydney and the rest of the world: "We wont let hatred grow. Put a little love in your heart!" We're hearing you, loud and clear!
Leaving The Funkhouse now to go explore Bondi, more from Sydney tomorrow.
Check out more of Hannah's pics here:
Check out more of Hannah's pics here: