Saturday the 2nd of March was the 41st Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. FOBGAYS+ was in the parade for the second time, with the theme FEARLESS TOGETHER. We had 40 amazing people dancing down Oxford Street celebrating our regional diversity, showcasing what’s possible when we are united against prejudice. Our float was decorated to look like a jungle, with each marcher dressed in regional clothes – saris, lungis, salwar kameez – while harnessing the fierceness of our South Asian animals – tigers, peacocks, colourful birds.
In the past 12 months, we have seen some incredible progress in the motherlands around LGBTQIA+ issues (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual+). India abolished the British artefact Section 377, while Pakistan established broad protections for transgender people and Nepal is drafting a bill to legalise same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, in our homeland, Australia, we have seen further support for LGBTQIA+ rights in the aftermath of marriage equality.
FOBGAYS+ received more media coverage this year ahead of the Mardi Gras, which has broadened our exposure and scope. We have heard from many people in the last week alone who support our cause and want to get involved. This groundswell of interest demonstrates just how important this movement is.
Switching to my personal story, it’s quite funny because I’d never actually been to see the Sydney LGBTQIA+ Mardi Gras until I was organising afloat in it. I’d always wanted to go, of course, but I usually made up last-minute excuses to get myself out of it. “I’ll never fit in”, “It’s too out there for me” and “I don’t really belong here” were just a few I foolishly entertained.
And how wrong I was.
The thing about Mardi Gras is that you don’t need to be gay or lesbian to be there. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, young or old! At the Sydney Mardi Gras, everyone is welcome. Which is why I think everyone reading this article should, at some point in their lives, give it a shot. You’ll be pleasantly surprised not just by how fun it is, but also by the love, support and sheer joy of feeling part of a community that unconditionally welcomes and accepts everyone. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
From the conversations I’ve had with Mardi Gras sceptics, I see, to some extent, arguments and preconceptions that I once used to champion, despite being a fairly progressive queer person of colour. Let me detail them below for you:
- Mardi Gras is too sexual for me
You wouldn’t be totally wrong in thinking this; the parade can, at times, be out there. You might come across some questionable outfits, and maybe even somebody parts you would like to see tucked back in.
But hey, have you watched a Bollywood film recently? South Asia may be prudish in its attitudes towards sexuality, but somehow no one seems to complain when Sallu bhai takes his shirt off in the latest Tiger franchise, or when Katrina Kaif does an item number in be bejewelled lingerie. It’s not a new thing either – we’ve been complicit in sexualising our own people for decades through home grown pop culture! I won’t get into the ethics of that, which is a whole article on its own. All I’m saying here is that we should probably be aware of our own double standards when making this particular argument.
- Mardi Gras isn’t for me
So you’re not gay, lesbian, trans or queer-identifying. It may be fair to assume then that you have no business being at Mardi Gras, an event that is for gay, lesbian and queer+ people.
I’d disagree here too. The first time I marched down Oxford Street, I was truly perplexed by the number of people in attendance who weren’t LGBTQIA+ identifying. I saw groups of friends celebrating their youth, families young and old, beaming at each other and co-workers exploring their friendships over the weekend. The fact is that sexual orientation can be fairly unimportant on the list of reasons why people attended the parade. And in my second year marching, this idea was cemented further.
- I won’t fit in
Okay, so you have no other reservations about the parade. You might just be concerned about not feeling like a part of the outstandingly diverse, 300,000 thousand strong community that does fit in as they cheer and celebrate people from all sorts of different and often mutually exclusive walks of life…
I think I’ve made my point. It’s hard not to fit into the Mardi Gras parade. You could be wearing a gold jumpsuit covered with glitter, or grey shirt and woollen slacks and either way you’d be welcomed. You could be from regional Victoria, Sydney’s trendy inner west, or fresh off the plane from Chennai and you’d still be welcomed. Chances are you’d find it harder to fit in at your new friend’s next kitty party than you would at a Mardi Gras parade.
Mardi Gras is the opposite of exclusion. The whole purpose is to combat discrimination by celebrating the broad diversity of our Australian society. Sexual diversity may have once been front and centre, but now Mardi Gras celebrates the diversity of ability, age, multiculturalism and even politics! All at the expense of attending an outdoor party in central Sydney for a couple of hours on a Saturday evening.
See you there next year!
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