Friday, March 03, 2006

Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Set for Saturday

(Link) A protest that started almost 30 years ago has blossomed into one of the world's biggest pride bashes. "It's about fun, celebration and the chance for everyone to let their hair down, be who they really are and have a good time."

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LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
By Miriam Steffens
Sydney Sun

An estimated 500,000 people will line Sydney streets tomorrow to watch the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which started life 28 years ago as a protest march for homosexual rights and has now become the city's biggest party.

The 1.6-kilometer (1-mile) parade marks the end of a month of gay-pride celebrations, including concerts by former Bronski Beat singer Jimmy Somerville and the Queer Film Festival. The thousands of overseas and interstate tourists who attend the festival add A$46 million ($34 million) to the state's A$298 billion economy, according to a study commissioned by the organizers.

Fifty police from the Gay and Lesbian Liaison office will join the marchers and the parade ends with an all-night party for 15,000 at Fox Studios, sponsored by Foster Group Ltd.'s Carlton & United Breweries and Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. It wasn't always so. The 1978 march to protest the criminalization of homosexuality ended with 53 arrests.

``We are being accepted,'' said Marcus Bourget, head of the Mardi Gras organizing committee. ``It's about fun, celebration and the chance for everyone to let their hair down, be who they really are and have a good time.''

The parade will start to the traditional roar of the Dykes on Bikes, a leather-clad lesbian motorbike club, who will lead more than 120 floats along Oxford Street in the heart of Sydney's gay community.

Last year's parade attracted 450,000 people, and organizers expect a larger turnout this year.

`Happy Queens'

Drawing their inspiration from popular culture and gay icons, floats will feature Daffyd, the self-described ``only gay in the village'' in U.K. comedy series ``Little Britain,'' and gay cowboys in a tribute to ``Brokeback Mountain,'' which earned Australian actor Heath Ledger a best actor Oscar nomination.

``We're expecting it to be big, brash and flamboyant,'' said John Sivorn, who traveled to Sydney from France with his boyfriend for the parade. ``There'll be lots and lots of happy queens.''

Still, while the Mardi Gras has become the biggest party in town, it has maintained a political edge, said Julianna Miller, an activist for same-sex marriage, which is illegal in Australia.

``The atmosphere is just electric and a lot of fun, but you are doing something worthwhile while you party,'' Miller, 20, said.

Social Protest

She's helped organize the ``Rocky Horror Picture Show'' float, featuring the cross-dressing Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his muscle-bound creation Rocky to protest Australian Prime Minister John Howard's opposition to same-sex marriages.

Gay beach boys will march for ``Love Between the Flags,'' appropriating the surf-safety message ``Swim Between the Flags'' to promote harmony in Sydney, whose beaches were rocked by race riots three months ago.

The party mood is also sobered by groups marching for AIDS awareness and parents showing support for their gay and lesbian children, protesting social and workplace discrimination.

Hotels catering to people attending the Mardi Gras have been booked out months in advance. Demand was so high that the Park Lodge Hotel accepted only bookings for stays of 10 nights or more during Mardi Gras.

``It's really busy, we were fully booked by December,'' said hotel manager Stephen Varga. ``It's a great time to be here, it's summer time, and it's got the appeal of being probably the longest-running gay pride festival in the world.''

Just Like Christmas

For shop-owners along Oxford Street, the weeks of Mardi Gras were a welcome boost. Road works and the opening of a 454- store mall in nearby Bondi Junction hurt sales over the past year and forced some storekeepers to close.

``Mardi Gras is our Christmas,'' said John Stevens, who works at Aussieboys, a gay fashion shop on the strip. ``Business is 200 percent, 300 percent more than usual,'' he said, before excusing himself to serve more customers.

``We're all cashed up, it costs a lot to look this cheap'' said Marty Siewert, who came from San Francisco with his partner and another couple. ``We're expecting a big party.''