Australian Culture Module U0901735 Melissa Ng Lisha

What is the Sydney¶s gay and lesbian Mardi Gras Parade and how it depicts Australia¶s shift in attitudes toward homosexuality Sydney¶s annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is an exuberant celebration that reflects Sydney¶s acceptance and approval of that section of the community. It is unquestionably the biggest party down under and one of the largest outdoor parades in the world. Not only does this two-week long festival inject tens of millions of dollars to Sydney¶s economy, it is also a great tourist attraction, attracting participants from all over the world. It is undeniably one of the greatest gay pride events in the world as no other event has attracted so many homosexual participants1. Nevertheless, it took years of effort to achieve the iconic status the parade had now. There has been homosexual activity going on in Australia for a very long time. Such activity can be traced back to the early beginnings where it was common to find same- sex couples among the convict workers. In the past, Australian homosexuals were a community of individuals despised, feared and persecuted by society. Back then, being gay or lesbian was believed to be a sin. Homosexuals were ruthlessly discriminated and were imprisoned when their acts were spotted in the open.2 Gays and lesbians were supposed to feel ashamed of their sexuality and were forced to keep their behaviour discrete by staying away from the public eye. The only exceptions were when they were meeting close friends, relatives, or those similar to them. If a gay male were to be caught wearing rouge or dressing up as a female, he could be sentenced up to 14 to 20 years imprisonment. In Victoria, in the 17th century, homosexuals could be sentenced for life imprisonment or hanged for Sodomy.3
New Mardi Gras. (n.d.). History. Retrieved April 1, 2010, from SYDNEY GAY AND LESBIAN MARDI GRAS: http://www.mardigras.org.au/about -us/history/index.cfm
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Willett, G. (n.d.). Living out loud: a history of gay and lesbian activism in Australia . Retrieved April 2010, 1, from Google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=Z4mzkd3trsC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_v2_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
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Anemogiannis, C. (Director). (2005). The hidden history of Homosexual Australia [Motion Picture].

Another threat to homosexuals at the time was gay bashing, which was a common occurrence. This has claimed the lives of many homosexuals in the country. Gay bashing is the act of inflicting physical violence onto an individual because they are gay or appear gay.
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. In fact, homophobia was at its peak during the Cold War after Senator Joseph McCarthy

accused homosexuality to be one of the greatest menaces facing Australia. This resulted in changes in legislation, making it unfriendly towards homosexual relations. This was accompanied by a marked increase in the number of prosecutions and a spread of negative attitudes towards non-heterosexual individuals. Homophobia was not only occurring in Australia and America but several parts of the world as well. All it took an event to trigger the motivation of the homosexual community to finally assert themselves and fight for their rights. The origins of the Mardi Gras Parade can be traced back to June 27-28 1969, at New York City where the police raided a bar called the Stonewall Inn. 5Several customers comprising of gay men, lesbians and transvestites were beaten up in the process. This angered the homosexual community who decided to unite and fight back for the first time, thus igniting the beginning of the gay rights movement in America. Around the same period, in 1770, an Australian newspaper featured a full page article called ³Couples´.6 The people they interviewed were openly homosexuals, even giving out their full names. This shows that homosexuals were gaining confidence and willing to come out to society. With these series of events, it is inevitable that the Homosexuals in Australia would soon stand up and start to speak for themselves.

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WIKIPEDIA. (n.d.). Gay Bashing. Retrieved april 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_bashing Rimmerman, C. A. (2008). The lesbian and Gay movements. USA: Westview Press. Anemogiannis, C. (Director). (2005). The hidden history of Homosexual Australia [Motion Picture].

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An important day for Australian gays and lesbians is the International Homosexual Solidarity March on June 24, 1978 near the King Cross Police station. 7 The gay and lesbian community had finally gained enough confidence to stage a demonstration, to reinforce the fact that they were neither sick nor willing to hide any longer. 8Also known as the first ever Mardi Gras Parade to occur in the country, this was the turning point in the lives of Australian homosexuals. To honour the stonewall riots in America, what started off as an evening celebration, became a protest march the following morning. Approximately 2000 people marched for gay and lesbian rights on that day. They marched down Oxford Street to Hyde Park. Upon seeing this, the police force blocked the way and diverted the march up to King Cross. After which they viciously attacked the demonstrators. Even women were not spared. It was an extremely violent and appalling police riot. 53 people were charged and arrested. Charges ranged from ³failing to cease take part in an unauthorised procession´ to ³using unseemly words´. They also had their names and addresses splashed across the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald the next morning. As a result, most lost their jobs and some even received death threats.9 To make matters worse, the day the individuals arrested were brought into court, the police closed the doors to the public. The actions of the police force went too far for Australians to handle and deeply angered the homosexual community. The way the judicial system handled the protestors depicts the intolerance of government towards the gay community. This day was an important day in Australian History as the violence triggered the emergence of the gay political movement in Australia. It is said to be the day the gay movement found its feathers and feet. Moreover, if the police had not arrested

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Moorhouse, G. (1999). Sydney, The story of a City. Ney York: HARCOURT IiNC.

Anemogiannis, C. (Director). (2005). The hidden history of Homosexual Australia [Motion Picture]. New Mardi Gras. (n.d.). History. Retrieved April 1, 2010, from SYDNEY GAY AND LESBIAN MARDI GRAS: http://www.mardigras.org.au/about-us/history/index.cfm
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any one that night, there wouldn¶t have been the emergence of the second Mardi Gras Parade, and subsequently the third and fourth and so on. As the law forbade gays and lesbians to gather at any public space, the homosexual community carried out more demonstrations to fight for their rights. This resulted in more individuals charged and arrested. Along with the demonstrations were tangible improvements in the judicial system. The following year, a new legislation known as the Public Assemblies act was created. It states that Australians can stage demonstrations without applying for permit.
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All they had to do was to notify the police force of their assembly. More than 3000

people participated in this second parade without any arrests made. This second time round the march evolved into a parade similar to a festival. Subsequently, in 1981, a post parade party was included after the march without being met with police violence. Afterwards, in 1982, to enjoy better weather, the parades were moved from winter to summer.11 These improvements signify greater public tolerance and more homosexual individuals coming out of the closet. With each year, the Mardi Gras Parade developed and increased in scale. The audience numbers kept growing, doubling each year till it reached 50,000 in 1984. Looking back, it is astounding how much change in the lives of gays and lesbians the demonstration at King Cross Station had caused. It allowed homosexuals to roam the streets freely and changed Australia into a more tolerant country.

New Mardi Gras. (n.d.). History. Retrieved April 1, 2010, from SYDNEY GAY AND LESBIAN MARDI GRAS: http://www.mardigras.org.au/about -us/history/index.cfm
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Willett, G. (n.d.). Living out loud: a history of gay and lesbian activism in Australia . Retrieved April 2010, 1, from Google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=Z4mzkd3trsC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_v2_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

In 1998, the highlight of the Parade was when a platoon of New South Wales police took part in the march; marching in their uniforms alongside other homosexuals. The inclusion of the Police force emphasizes the fact that Gays and Lesbians come from all walks of life. Other than the Police force, the Australian Democrats also participated in the event. Senator Stott Despoja mentioned in his 1998 speech that ³the issues of gay and lesbian rights will continue to be an important part of our party policy. We will con tinue to push for recognition of same sex couples and put an end to discrimination´ This reflects the changed attitudes towards homosexuality and greater social acceptance by the public. The homosexual community, who once secluded themselves from the local community, can now make their presence known without being shunned or ridiculed. This shows society getting more liberal and tolerant. Currently, Australia is well known to be a multicultural nation, tolerant of different cultural groups and sexualities. Every capital city celebrates gay pride, with Sydney¶s Gay and Lesbian Parade being the most prominent and elaborate. Hosting the famous annual parade, Sydney is also known as Australia¶s ³gay capital´. Not only is the event a spectacular celebration of gay and lesbian pride, there is not a hint of violence anywhere to be seen. The event is held through the month of February and into first week of March. The highlight of the event is a 3 hour parade that is being broadcasted simultaneously in several countries. Unlike what the name suggests the parade is not only catered to the homosexuals, but also to all forms of genders, even transgender. 12In fact, not all participants are LGBT13. Any social group, be it the life savers of Australia or the Aboriginals could all join the parade if they wanted their voices heard. Friends of the gay and lesbians participants are also
Drinnan, N. (n.d.). The rough guide to gay & lesbian Australia. Retrieved April 2010, 1, from http://books.google.com/books?id=I8mu17V7XsC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_book_similarbooks#v=onepage&q&f=false
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Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual

allowed to join in the march. This reflects the awesomeness of the parade in a way it not only helps unite the homosexual community but also bring together different cultures in one special occasion. This year, is the 32 nd anniversary if the Mardi Gras Parade. The parade itself attracted over 400000 spectators with 2000 spectators. It was a spectacular event that even had performances by American idol superstar, Adam Lambert. This is an artist who openly admitted to being homosexual, gaining the respect from homosexuals all over the world. As observed, performers do not have to be Australian; non-Australians can participate as well. During the parade, hundreds of homosexuals, bisexuals, drag queens and transgender wear elaborate and over the top costumes, while performing and dancing to exhilarating music. The energy is infectious. Not to be missed are the huge floats, each representing different a theme, displayed during the parade. There are usually close to 300 floats being displayed each year. 14There are certain floats are tongue in cheek in nature, mocking public figures and politicians. Among some of the individuals targeted are Australian politician Pauline Hanson, and even the federal Prime Minister.15 There is humour present throughout the parade with some participants dressing up as nuns and marching alongside with fellow homosexual police officers. They call themselves the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and are a group consisting of bearded men dressed in nun uniforms. The humour injected into the parade is not meant to ridicule the government or the church but solely for entertainment purposes. Such humour displayed is indeed very Australian. Participants carrying pro-

homosexual banners like ³Homophobia. What are you scared of´ and ³lust for life´ are also a common sight. Another group of contributors extremely welcomed by the audience are the ³dikes on bikes´. The crowd often goes crazy at the sight of them.

DESPOJA, s. S. (1998, March 2). Gay and lesbian Mardi Gras. Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary debates . Australia: Authority of the senate.
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Moorhouse, G. (1999). Sydney, The story of a City. Ney York: HARCOURT IiNC.

Hundreds of thousands of people line the Oxford and Flinders Streets to catch a glimpse of the exotic parade.16 The joyous energy rippling through the whole ceremony is infectious. Most of Sydney is involved, holding performances, dancing and partying. Examples of some locations involved include the Royal Botanical gardens and even the Sydney Opera House. Everyone wants to join in the celebration of gay pride. Other than for entertainment purposes, other focuses of the parade include uniting the homosexual community and raising awareness that homosexuals come from all walks of life. Moreover, it demonstrates the government¶s acknowledgement to the gay community as they authorised the parade to take place in the Australian streets. Australia, or most of, has finally accepted homosexuality as a normal form of sexuality. Nowadays, gays and lesbians live lives more of celebration than shame. Currently, compared to the past where homosexuals were treated like viruses, it is now illegal in most states to discriminate individuals based on their sexuality. Anti discrimination laws prevent citizens from being denied housing or employment based on their sexuality.17 The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, together with their supporters, are stronger than ever. They are able to mobilise huge numbers of people, even from out of Australia, to take part in the Mardi Gras Parade. Moreover, straight individuals have also admittedly credited Mardi Gras to be the greatest event of the year and are excited to witness the occasion18. This reflects how homosexuals are accepted as a member of the community and being gay or lesbian is nothing to be ashamed of.

New Mardi Gras. (n.d.). History. Retrieved April 1, 2010, from SYDNEY GAY AND LESBIAN MARDI GRAS: http://www.mardigras.org.au/about -us/history/index.cfm Drinnan, N. (n.d.). The rough guide to gay & lesbian Australia. Retrieved April 2010, 1, from http://books.google.com/books?id=I8mu17V7XsC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_book_similarbooks#v=onepage&q&f=false
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Anemogiannis, C. (Director). (2005). The hidden history of Homosexual Australia [Motion Picture].

Despite increasing tolerance and acceptance by the community, anti-gay and antiMardi Gras ideas still exist. For instance, between 1989 and 1993, 14 homosexuals were murdered in New South Wales. A significant individual heading the opposition is Reverend Frederick John Nile from the Uniting Church of Australia. He claims it is a ³public parade of immorality and blasphemy´ In this speech on February this year he mentioned being extremely dissatisfied with the immense amount of government involvement in the parade, calling it the ³ New South Wales Government¶s Mardi Gras Parade´. During one of the parades, together with approximately 30 supporters, Fred Rev Nile carried a billboard that said ³God Forgive Sydney´. However, he is incapable of mobilising many supporters and is overpowered by the dominant liberal tolerance in society today. In 1997, Prime Minister John Howard refused to acknowledge that he supports the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. He also noted in a TV program, that if any of his children were homosexual, he would be disappointed.19 He mentioned that another reason why he dislikes the parade is because it ridicules his fellow politicians, whom he respects. Some people find the satire in the parade disturbing. However, humorists have for quite some time made fun of politicians and the church, even before the first Mardi Gras Parade. 20 Although one cannot claim that homosexual discrimination is entirely absent, in this modern age, gays and lesbians are having a much better life than decades ago, because they are able to be more open and have many networks accessed to them. Attitudes have changed dramatically over the past years. Most members of society no longer view homosexuals as a vice and are willing to accept them into their public life. No transformation has been more spectacular than the Mardi Grad Parade, the huge and great celebration of gay and lesbian
Wikipedia. (n.d.). LGBT rights in Australia. Retrieved April 2010, 1, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Australia ESPOJA, s. S. (1998, March 2). Gay and lesbian Mardi Gras. Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary debates . Australia: Authority of the senate.
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pride. Under the glitz and glamour, it is still a political march where homosexuals will keep striving to be treated as equals in society.

Biblography Anemogiannis, C. (Director). (2005). The hidden history of Homosexual Australia [Motion Picture]. DESPOJA, s. S. (1998, March 2). Gay and lesbian Mardi Gras. Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary debates . Australia: Authority of the senate. Drinnan, N. (n.d.). The rough guide to gay & lesbian Australia. Retrieved April 2010, 1, from http://books.google.com/books?id=I8mu17V7XsC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_book_similarbooks#v=onepage&q&f=false Moorhouse, G. (1999). Sydney, The story of a City. Ney York: HARCOURT IiNC. New Mardi Gras. (n.d.). History. Retrieved April 1, 2010, from SYDNEY GAY AND LES BIAN MARDI GRAS: http://www.mardigras.org.au/about -us/history/index.cfm Rimmerman, C. A. (2008). The lesbian and Gay movements. USA: Westview Press. WIKIPEDIA. (n.d.). Gay Bashing. Retrieved april 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_bashing Wikipedia. (n.d.). LGBT rights in Australia. Retrieved April 2010, 1, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Australia Willett, G. (n.d.). Living out loud: a history of gay and lesbian activism in Australia . Retrieved April 2010, 1, from Google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=Z4mzkd3trsC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_v2_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

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