Mardi Gras celebrates 40 years of liberation and freedom

An estimated 300,000 spectators filled the streets of Sydney to watch over 12,000 participants take part in the 40th annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

Four decades after one night of celebration became a political protest, the Mardi Gras spirit continued with a record breaking number of people watching the parade.

The parade lasted close to four hours, involved 200 different groups showing their support for the LGBTIQ community.

As is the tradition, the parade began with the Dykes on Bikes – with more motorcycles revving their engines that ever previously seen.

Terese Casu, the CEO of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras said the parade was one that would go down in history.

“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.

“In total there was a record 200 groups represented in the 2018 Mardi Gras Parade, sharing a stunning array of creative concepts from all walks of LGBTQI life.

Casu said that the entries in this years’ 40th anniversary parade were a mix of celebration, and and a reminder of serious issues as well.

“Beyond the glitter, flamboyance and satire, there were so many floats reminding us of the serious issues. Acceptance, inclusivity, diversity, respect.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy watched the parade alongside NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

The PM even got to take a selfie with iconic singer Cher who also watched the parade go by, including the QANTAS float which was filled with Drag Queens dressed as the singer.

Cher joined the float and walked part of the parade route as the speakers played her hits including Turn Back Time and Strong Enough. 

The Mardi Gras began 40 years ago as a flamboyant protest arguing that LGBTI people deserved respect and laws criminalising homosexuality needed to be removed. The first march was marred by horrific police violence and became a turning point in Australia’s push LGBTI recognition.

Those people who marched in the original Mardi Gras in 1978 have become known as 78ers and are respected throughout the LGBTIQ communities across the nation. Therese Casu said may of this year’s floats paid tribute to those pioneers.

“Among this year’s many floats were many paying tribute to the original Mardi Gras marchers, our 78ers, and our 40 year anniversary. Indeed over 200 78ers from all over Australia made their way to Sydney to lead the Parade train with the First Nations float.” Casu said.

“Marchers from all over Australia were out in force: representing the beaches around Australia with the Surf Life Savers with Pride float, showing the world the Northern Territory’s unique LGBTQI community, and celebrating the LGBTQI activist groups of Tasmania. From a global perspective Sydney’s Indonesian community group Selamat Datang GLBTIQ brought to light the struggle for equality that people in other parts of the world face,” Casu said.

As the clean-up began on Sydney’s streets, many of the revellers continued to celebrate Mardi Gras at the Party, which took over several venues in Moore Park. The party will continue through 8am in the morning.

Join Joel Creasey, Magda Szubanski, Urzila Carlson and Patrick Abboud for the 40th Annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras broadcast. Sunday, March 4 at 8:30pm on SBS

OIP Staff, Images: Leigh Andrew Hill (Dykes on Bikes) other participant images supplied by Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.   

06-03-18 Correction: an earlier version of this article described Mardi Gras as the world’s biggest LGBTI celebration. We acknowledge that this was an error and there are many much larger Pride celebrations around the globe.  

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