The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a festival celebrating the LGBTQI community in Sydney, promoting a statement of pride, diversity and acceptance, and holding a wide variety of community events, cultural and social activities, and more, for local residents and visitors to the city to enjoy. This year’s theme, ‘Fearless’, will explore the ides of living life courageously despite your fears, recognising how the brave actions of LGBTQI advocates, activists and groups have paved the way for equality and inclusion.
On the 24 June 1978 the Gay Solidarity Group marched through the city in the first ever Mardi Gras street festival with the intention of raising awareness of the issues faced by LGBTQI residents in Sydney, starting with the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The protest was also held to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that spontaneously broke out in New York in 1969. Although the first festival ended in violence with 53 arrests noted, the community did not give up in their efforts to be treated equally in their home country. 1979 saw the event expand from a one-day march to a week-long festival, incorporating a new artistic direction with a Gay Alternative Fair Day, film screenings and the first dance party fundraiser held at Balmain Town Hall.
As Mardi Gras entered the 80s there were some disagreements within the group as to what the purpose of the event really was. With homosexuality still outlawed and no real pressure to change the law, many questioned the political motivations of the event. A victory was celebrated in 1982 however when changes to the Anti-Discrimination Act meant that it became illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. The years that followed saw more businesses and government factions show support to the Mardi Gras campaign, with Sydney City Council placing rainbow flag decorations along the Oxford Street parade route in 1983 and 1984 finally saw the legalisation of homosexuality in NSW, an offence that had previously carried a penalty of up to 14 years in prison.
Although legalised in NSW, as the 80s went on homosexuality was still illegal in more than half of Australia’s states and there was a lot of negative press about HIV/AIDS. This in turn meant that Mardi Gras became a place where LGBTQI members could feel safe, supported and show off their pride in who they were. Mardi Gras’s biggest event The Party, continued to grow in popularity and moved to a new home at the Hordern Pavillion.
Moving into the 90s the popularity of the event saw people flocking to enjoy the colourful parade, fair day and parties across the city. The parade drove millions into the local community, raised awareness and money for HIV/AIDS charities and helped to change views of local MPs, who lifted a ban on gay and lesbians seving in the Australian Armed Forces in 1992. The parade was broadcast on TV for the first time in 1994, and superstar Kylie Minogue performed the 3am slot at the Royal Hall of Industries. The festival has seen many big-name acts perform over the years, including Boy George, Dannii Minogue, Tom Jones, Tina Arena, Calvin Harris, David Guetta, The Freemasons, Cyndi Lauper, Olivia Newton John and many more.
Now in its 41st year, this year’s Mardi Gras is set to be huge, as many come together to celebrate once again over 17 days packed with parties, performances, community events and more from 16 February. This year will also see iconic star Cher headline the Mardi Gras Party. Fresh off the back of the success of 2017’s referendum on marriage equality, there will be cause to celebrate across Sydney as same sex couples and those within the LGBTQI community toast to their beautiful selves and what makes them unique, party hard and honour those who fought for the rights they waited so long to hold.
Outrageous Mardi Gras Moments
Mardi Gras has always been a space to explore and celebrate who you are and a forum to exchange ideas, interact with and show support for the LGBTQI community. There have been ups and downs, from the first riots of the 78ers to the unveiling of the first floats. Through adversity, the spirit of self-expression and the passion for equality has kept people campaigning for what they believe is right.
Read on to explore some of the most important moments in the festival’s strong history.
1978 The Mardi Gras Parade takes to the streets for the first time as a political protest for the rights of Australian members of the LGBTQI community.
1982 Narrandera man Roger McKay marched alone with the Aboriginal flag, the first time the flag representing the First People of Australia was used in the parade. This year, the First Nations of People will lead the Mardi Gras parade, showcasing their proud history.
1988 The famous Dykes on Bikes made their first appearance at the front of the parade.
1994 The first televised showing of the Mardi Gras parade hits screens across Australia, showing 50 minutes of highlights from the festival.
1997 The Lemonheads famous all-female float debuted at the parade. Their iconic lemon outfits were recreated in 2013.
2003 Mardi Gras returns as a grassroots movement.
2010 saw 5,200 people strip down on the steps of the Sydney Opera House for photographer Spencer Tunick’s nude installation.
2016 12,500 people take part in the Mardi Gras parade watched by 300,000 onlookers, making it one of the biggest years in the event’s history.
When is Mardi Gras 2019?
This year, Mardi Gras will be held from 15 February to 3 March, with a carnival of immersive events at a range of locations across Sydney! Kicking off the festivities will be The Queer Screen’s 26th Mardi Gras Film Festival hosted by Event Cinemas in the city centre. The annual event will showcase a number of new films and well-loved classics from around the world, including Giant Little Ones, Rafiki and the coming-of-age thriller Boys. The iconic Laneway event will close out the festival, featuring live music, DJs and more. Head to the Mardi Gras site to find out more information and explore the full programme of events.
Amazing Mardi Gras Events 2019
Mardi Gras is back with a bang this year with an awesome programme of events set to wow revelers as they descend on the City of Sydney for the famous festival. Check out some of the hottest Mardi Gras events below and start planning your Mardi Gras schedule!
The Official Mardi Gras Party, Moore Park 2 March
The only place to be after the famous parade, the official Mardi Gras Party kicks off at 10:00 pm with a plethora of spectacular performance acts, DJs and more! Headlined by legendary artist Cher, the biggest LGBTQI party of the year is sure to wow with awe-inspiring light installations, theatrics and some fun surprises in store for revellers!
Mardi Gras Parade, Darlinghurst 2 March
Celebrate where it all began and show your support, pride and passion to the community as part of the iconic Mardi Gras Parade. Expect to see the legendary Lemonheads, Dykes on Bikes, beautiful drag queens, community heroes and more people from all walks of life come together in solidarity, peace and stunning colour. Whether you’re watching from the sidelines, marching as one, or responsible for creating one of the brilliantly vibrant floats on display, there’s so many ways you can join in the festival of love!
Mardi Gras Laneway, Surry Hills 3 March
Mardi Gras will come to a glittering crescendo with the Mardi Gras Laneway party – the perfect place to recover from a jam-packed festival of events. Returning to its traditional home the event will be joint hosted by The Beresford and The Filnders Hotel in the city and feature a number of surprise performances, unique DJ sets, installations and much more. Celebrate another successful festival in style at a spectacular street party not to be missed!
Mardi Gras Pool Party, City Centre 25 February
Grab yourself a pool noodle and your best swimsuit as city centre venue The Ivy plays host to the hottest pool party of the summer – all in the name of Mardi Gras. Expect cool, poolside glamour, tasty cocktails and exciting local DJs spinning a range of new tunes, club classics and gay anthems.
Mardi Gras Sissy Ball, Redfern 23 February
Head to the Carriageworks for a one-night-only trip back in time as the Eveleigh venue is transformed into a New York underground ballroom. The Sissy Ball will be a safe space allowing freedom of expression and an evening of iconic Vogue extravagance. Expect a mesmerising soundtrack of disco, house, pop and more curated by local artist and club icon Bhenji Ra and listen out for the full line-up which will be announced soon!
Find more fun Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras events here!