Pride WA, Pre-formation And the Early Years
Perth, October 1989.
The search for a star was heating up at camp enclave Arpi’s, a new gentlemen’s bar offered a sophisticated alternative, and Connections Nightclub celebrated Friday the 13th with a Batdance.
Behind closed doors there were many places to escape from a frightening world outside: a world where Aids was taking lives, police harassment was rife and sodomy was still illegal in Western Australia.
The Gay Law Reform Group of WA joined an International Day of Protest on October 22. Protests were staged in WA, Queensland and Tasmania on the anniversary of hundreds of arrests of gay people in Salamanca Place, Hobart. Symbolic action was taken in Sydney and Melbourne, where laws had already progressed.
Over 300 people took to Parliament House in West Perth, in what was the largest turnout across the country. 200 pink and mauve balloons were released as the crowd sang “I Am What I Am”. The message was loud and clear.
After much debate, a reluctant government passed a bill to decriminalise homosexuality – 18 votes to 15 – in March of 1990, but with highly a highly offensive preamble and age of consent higher than for heterosexuals.
Following this qualified success, The Stonewall Union of Students of Western Australia (SUSWA) was formed in July 1990. During September that year, 30 members of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organisations formed the Pride Collective (WA).
A calendar of 30 events formed the basis of Perth’s first Pride month in October of 1990, including an art exhibition, quiz night, film night and celebrations of International Lesbian Day and Coming Out Day.
On October 20, 1990, the first anniversary of the Parliament House Rally was celebrated with a 200 strong march from Supreme Court Gardens at 10am and the Beloved Happiness Dance Party that night at the Leederville Hotel. Many things have changed over the years, but the message of that first protest rally must never be lost.
In October 2009, Pride welcomed people in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Protest Rally that got the ball rolling, with the 20th annual Pride Month, and 20 years of Pride in Western Australia.
HISTORY OF PRIDE WA
In October 1989, the Parliament of Western Australia was debating a bill to decriminalise homosexual acts between consenting males.
On October 22, a rally was held on the steps of Parliament House to protest over laws discriminating against gay men in Western Australia and to persuade Parliament that the Bill should be passed. Over 300 people attended the rally armed with banners and pink and mauve balloons to express their anger at unjust and discriminatory laws.
The Bill was finally proclaimed in March of 1990.
July 29, 1990 saw the formation of a new student group called “Stonewall union of Students of Western Australia.” The first initiatives of SUSWA were to contact other groups within the lesbian and gay community with the aim of setting up a WA Pride Collective and organising a “Pride Month” in October. A meeting held on September 16, brought together 30 members of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual organisations in Perth to form the Pride Collective (WA).
Thirty events were organised for the month of October and the first street march was to be held in Perth for many years attracted over 200 participants. The march had almost an equal number of gay men and lesbians and was an indication of the coalitionist approach and make-up of the Pride Collective.
October 26, the Parade was moved from day to night-time and thousands watched the 350 gay men, lesbians and supporters who took to the streets.
The Pride Collective had, up until this point, been a loose affiliation of individual groups, including GALE, SUSWA, PFLAG, GAGS, Metropolitan Community Church, Westside Observer, Laughing Medusa, Grapevine, The Wilde Alliance, Curtin Stonewall Club, WA Aids Council, PLWA, Breakaway, and ACT-UP.
Following the success of the parade and the parties, the Pride Collective discussed the future of the group. The issue of incorporation and what to do with funds raised, were entered into during these discussions.
The Pride March of 1992 surpassed all expectations of the Pride collective, with 1,500 participants. The Parade was almost five times the size of the 1991 Parade. The media response was extremely positive, referring to the Parade as “Perth’s Gay Mardi Gras”.
The financial success of the dance party and a growing bank balance meant that incorporation was an urgent priority for the Pride collective in 1993.
After a series of meetings at the beginning of 2993, a public meeting in May, endorsed a constitution for Pride and elected 12 people to the Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee.
1993 was also a year of tremendous growth for Pride. A “Fairday” planned as the opening for the festival attracted over 1,000 people.
The ’94 Festival events concluded with what can only be described as the most dazzling Parade that Perth had seen. More than 20 floats registered with 3,000 participants and crowds of viewers were estimated at 50,000 to 70,000.
1995 saw the development of Pride into a more professional organisation. It also saw the first round of funding grants to be returned to the community for projects. 1,300 people braved the coldest night of the year for the first mid-year XES Party. Fairday was hugely successful in 1995, with over 5,000 people attending.
Funding rounds for 1996 saw a total of $31,000 returned to the lesbian and gay community in the form of grants for a number of projects. This resulted in the annual Parade once again expanding over the previous year in size and spectacle.
In a ground-breaking year, 1997 saw Pride face new challenges. Early in the year, a media beat-up led to rumours that the Perth City Council was trying to prevent the Parade from taking its usual course through Northbridge. This was due, in part, to the Northbridge Tunnel works – although part of the rout was affected, the minor detour was actually a bonus, providing more viewing space for spectators.
The XES Dance Party was held outside the inner city for the first time in the Embassy Ballroom in Carlisle. Although it was an ideal venue for a party, the location deterred people from participating.
Just as Parade plans were coming along smoothly, opposition from a very vocal local minority of Northbridge businesses saw Perth City Council attempt to stop the Parade until 11pm. However, a majority backlash from the community, other Northbridge businesses, and the general public along with the support of the WA Police Service, saw the Council change tack and allow what was then the biggest ever Parade.
After an exhaustive search, Pride managed to secure a warehouse in Aberdeen Street for the Heaven Dance Party – just minutes from where the parade would end. The 1997 Pride Festival was brought to a spectacular closing in what was widely regarded as the most successful parties Pride had run to date.
1998 was a turbulent, but visibly successful year for Pride. The mid-year XES Dance Party attracted its highest ever audience with estimates of 1,700 attending on a very cold night at BOO Warehouse. Fairday at Perry Lakes attracted a record crowd, despite rain forecasts – and was a fantastic opening to the Festival month. The 9th Annual Parade was as exciting and spectacular as ever.
The Pride Committee dedicated the Parade to a 21-year-old gay man, Matthew Shepard from Wyoming USA, who had been brutally bashed and left for dead, passing away withing Pride month on October 12. The crowd was estimated at 100,000 by some sources – clearly a sign of the public’s acceptance and interest in having a ‘mardi-gras’ style even annually in the streets of Northbridge.
1999 saw Pride celebrate a 10-year-Odyssey for Western Australia’s lesbian and gay community. An informal daytime protest march had evolved into a professional month-long Festival of events, ending in what had become Northbridge’s most colourful and popular night of the year.
1999 saw Pride seek funding from the City of Perth. The initial application for $10, 000 in assistance was declined, but the Council voted in favour of providing $3,400 in-kind support for barricading and cleaning. Soon after this decision, the mayors of Subiaco, Vincent and Fremantle all indicated they would welcome the Pride Parade in their municipalities, should the City of Perth not want it. While the 1999 Parade went ahead in Northbridge, Pride’s Annuaal General Meeting resolved to hold to hold a special General meeting in 2000 for the membership to decide whether the 2000 parade should be held.
In September of ‘99, the Pride Committee considered moving the parade away from Northbridge after a sponsorship deal with the City of Perth funding falling through.
In November ’99, Subiaco approached Pride and suggested moving the parade to Subiaco.
In March, 2000, Subiaco voted 6-5 in favour of hosting the Parade. Later that month The City of Perth voted 8-1 to give Pride $13,400 sponsorship. In April, Pride members vote to accept an annual $20,000 package offered by Subiaco businesses. Later that month, on April 18 – Northbridge businesses counted the Subiaco offer with $60,000 in support of Pride, if the Parade were to stay in Northbridge. On April 27th, Pride members voted to keep the parade in Northbridge.
2001 was a difficult year for the Pride committee, with a high turnover in committee members. XES was again held at the Old Kailis Markets in Northbridge, with a large crowd turning out on a cold night. The Pride “True Colours” festival was held throughout October, culminating in another high quality Parade and end of Festival closing Party (also held at Old Kailis Markets, making it the fourth consecutive Pride Dance Party held at that venue.
2002 saw the passing of Australia’s most comprehensive lesbian and gay law reforms by the Western Australian Parliament. The Pride year began with the traditional XES Party, which was moved to a warmer time of year and was renamed SEXES (success), becoming the official community celebration of the recently passed law reforms.
Fairday expanded at Hyde Park, with more space, more stalls and a record crowd turning out for a great day. The Festival was christened “Bloom”, and our community was asked to “bloom with Pride” at the recent proclamation of the new law reforms.
The Festival was widely regarded as the best in Pride’s rich history. The Parade had a record number of floats and the end of Festival Dance Party saw our first ever love acts, with Jimmy Somerville, Katie Underwood and Disco Montego thrilling a large crowd.
After starting 2003 in a precarious financial position and with potentially serious implications looming due to massive increases in the cost of public liability insurance, Pride sought and gained substantial financial sponsorship from the City of Perth. A potentially controversial condition of the sponsorship was the relocation of the popular Fairday from Hyde Park to the city. The relocation of the Annual Fair Day to Russell Square, it’s fourth home in ten years, saw the largest crowd ever recorded for the event turn out to make the day a huge success.
The massive hike in insurance premiums may have put an end to warehouse parties, but Pride held three parties during 2003 which were both critically and financially very successful: The White Party, XES 2003 at Metro City, Studio 54 at Connections and ‘Lightspeed’, the end of festival event at The Globe.
The theme of the 2004 festival was “Love the Skin You’re In”, which focussed on the important issues of self-respect and community development, as well as providing much inspiration to costumers, designers, float builders and performers. 2004 saw Pride undertake a television advertising campaign for the first time, promoting festival events on Channel Ten’s Community Service Announcements. Another new initiative for the year was Pride’s first-ever interstate marketing campaign, offering VIP Visitor Packs for people travelling from interstate for the festival.
The 2004 parade enjoyed a reversal of fortune, with a large and enthusiastic crowd of spectators enjoying the first-ever synchronised soundtrack for the event. Radio station Nova 93.7 FM broadcast the mix of contemporary hits and queer anthems which was pumped out over speaker systems along the parade route and from the floats themselves. Fireworks and pre-parade entertainment were popular and spectacular additions to the parade, substantially improving its entertainment value.
2005 was a challenging year for Pride, a year in which instability on the Committee resulted in a number of resignations, missed opportunities and loss of momentum, following two years of strong events, revenue, and membership growth.
Following three years of stability of the Pride Committee, 2005 saw high committee turnover, with a series of resignations in July leaving the committee under-staffed and ill-prepared to stage the 2005 Festival. Fortunately, a number of former committee members agreed to return to the fold to ensure that the 2005 Pride Festival went ahead.
In 2006, costs to host Fairday and the Parade increased by 20%. Despite these challenges, both were successful – and the Parade was well attended with bright and colourful floats embracing the ‘Carnivale’ theme.
The Carnivale After Party was held at Metro City, and, although profitable, the committee realised that their former flagship event was no longer its major fundraiser. A focus on tightening the purse strings throughout the year set Pride WA in a healthy financial position for the beginning of 2007.
In 2007 the Committee attempted to revive the warehouse parties of old with the Universall party at Belmont Race Course.
The overall number of people lining the parade route decreased significantly from number experienced in previous years. Unfortunately the Universall party was not a success. At the end of 2007 ride was in financial ruin and there were calls to wind down the organisation.
After turbulent times in 2007, Pride’s mission in 2008 was to re-establish the organisation as a credible and respected brand on the Perth festival scene. A cash injection of $35,000 from a generous community member ensured that the new committee could focus on the task at hand.
Learning from mistakes made in the past and bringing new ideas to the table, the 2008 committee managed to successfully turn the operation around from a loss making venture to a profitable organization.
In 2008 it was clear that relying on volunteers and sponsorship had not worked for some time, so changes were made which resulted in a very successful festival. A realisation that times had changed with regards to Pride Parade parties lead to a mutually beneficial arrangement with Connections Nightclub. The 2008 Pride Party was a huge success.
An events company was introduced to help stage Fairday and was paramount in decreasing risk and making the most of opportunities. Pride was one the way back up, and by the end of a very successful festival, had already decided on a theme to bring it on home for the 20th Annual Pride Festival in 2009.
The theme for the Pride Festival in 2009 was “Homecoming”. It was one of the largest – and fullest Festivals, which ran for a whopping 5 weeks. The theme of “Homecoming” was chosen in the hope that some of the people who had left Perth to live elsewhere would come back to help the Perth community celebrate the enormous gains made by the LGBTIQ community of WA in the past 20 years.