Sydney Mardi Gras History

I’m really too young to understand but I still acknowledge the history of today. The fresh face, bright eye horny late teens of today’s Annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will understand less than I and, dare I say, will not really acknowledge the history of today. Instead they will see the glitz and glamour, the mostly naked bodies with barely concealed cocks, open asses, exposed tits and barely concealed bikini lines. I was born in the late 80’s and by the time I discovered dicks and asses and had begun to explore my sexuality I had escaped the majority of the legal persecution of homosexuals. Whilst Sydney experiences its Annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras we must remember as to the actual history of the Mardi Gras and how the roots of its histories are entwined with protests, support and a determination towards equality.

The Stonewall Riots were a community response against repeated police raids against gay clubs. The police had raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich in the early hours, however unlike usual raids This raid did not go to plan. Perhaps it was due to the lateness of the raid, or perhaps the right people had congregated in the right spot at the right time – regardless of the speculation it is clear it did not go to plan. Paddy wagons did not arrive in time to quickly put people who had been arrested in, the people who were permitted to leave out the back door did not dissipate.

When the wagons arrived, it was a culmination of suspected beatings still occurring in the club, and people being forcibly thrown into the back of the wagons that threw the burgeoning crowd into a mob-like frenzy. It was not an organised riot. Reports suggest that the community had simply had enough against the police brutality and violence. Gays, Lesbians, Queers, Dykes and Fags were treated as sub-human. The laws were ridiculous, that women had to wear three pieces of feminine clothing or be labelled as a transgender and be thrown into a prison. The police were receiving pay-offs from the clubs to not have them raided, it was what Fader describes a reclamation as to what the people had lost, the emotions of ‘outrage, anger, sorrow,  and everything combined’. It was 45 minutes of chaos, of violence and of police humiliation. It is speculated that the police were horrified and humiliated that the most marginilised members of the community had fought back. With the police force in larger numbers, and no longer retreating they detained everyone they could, despite the crowd fighting back furiously.

Sydney Mardi Gras Pink Swimmers
Photo: Sydney Mardi Gras

The crowd had formed small dancing lines (Kick lines) and the police responded with night sticks. The crowd sang songs of merriment, mockery and tomfoolery. The Police responded with night sticks. It’s heartbreaking. It’s devastating.  Yes, the crowd reacted against the authorities – but they had spent so long being persecuted, hunted and villifed that they had simply had enough. The next night, the ‘Gay’s’ and their friends came out, they displayed affection on the streets, they rioted, they reclaimed what had been taken from them – openness and the ability to live normal lives. It wasn’t prim and proper and it angered many gay activists who had thought that the sensationalised violence, songs and fires undermined the message that they had wanted. That Queers were no different than the heterosexuals.

The first gay pride march occurred the following year in 1970 and has been growing ever since.  The stonewall Riots are the pivotal defining moment in Queer History. Yet, unlike school, it’s a history that is not taught, not told and not passed on. The queers of today, the young ones (which I still feel I am a part of. Just) have not faced fear, have not faced persecution. They face homophobia, but it’s a different world now.  They/we are, for the most part, supported by the law, supported by the authorities and have an abundance of support networks.

Yes, it needs improvement, yes there’s more work to do. But the fear that our elder Queers faced is not something that we have faced, nor could we possibly understand what they went through in the dark years of the 50s to the 70’s. The stonewall riots are epitomised as the moment that the queers fought back, and immortalised as a symbol for the ongoing struggles that queers face.

The initial Sydney parade occurred on June 24th in 1978 and it was a response to the International Gay Solidarity Celebrations that had been established with the Stonewall Riots in mind. Whilst I understand that Queer Pride has lots of glitz and glamour, I sometimes feel that the ‘spectacle’ overshadows the intention, the history and the struggles that we have faced. It’s a touchy issue and immediately electrifies both sides of the fence. How many of the patrons would know why the Stonewall hotel has been named such? You would hope that they know the histories and the legacy.

Today is a day of celebration, today is a day we celebrate diversity, queerness and continue to fight the world for equality. Today is also a day of sadness as our histories, potentially, slowly disappear.

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