This Saturday night, the 28th annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade will be staged. On the street, you will see two recurring themes: the outlawing of homosexuality in more than 80 countries, and the banning of same-sex marriage in most places worldwide, including in Australia. Some 6,000 people will be marching and dancing along Oxford Street.
There is plenty that is serious and overtly political about the parade this year, from both a local and global perspective, and much to support an argument that the parade is as important now as when it all began in 1978 amid arrests and police brutality.
Arguably, in these gay-visible, politically complacent times of Queer Eye, Queer as Folk and The L Word, when both the federal and NSW police actually march in the parade, the event is even more important, because all is not as it seems. Gays and lesbians have been caught off guard by speedy legislators in Canberra.
For the past three months, I have deliberately stepped over the line of dispassionate, Sydney-based journalist and become one of the thousands who help voluntarily stage this event. It is impossible to be a gay or lesbian journalist in this country and remain impartial against a tide of divisive reactionary social politics that has washed ashore in this country, direct from the United States.
Next weekend (March 12), when the Mardi Gras flame has flickered, my boyfriend and I will fly to Melbourne for my younger brother’s wedding to his girlfriend. I truly wish them every happiness, and will revel in the moment.
But Mardi Gras’ mock marriages and then a real suburban marriage in quick succession force me to look at my partner of nearly six years - a period longer than my brother and his fiancée have known one another - and wonder what we did exactly to deserve the federal Marriage Legislation Amendment Act 2004, a truly unnecessary law which reinforces marriage as a union of only a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others.
Its chief sponsor, the Prime Minister, has taken his lead from the US President, who last year flagged intentions to amend his country’s Constitution to keep same-sex couples away from the altar. At the same time, New Zealand has in recent weeks been able to introduce what we couldn’t: a civil union registration scheme for same-sex couples.
When my partner and I return to Sydney, we will be taking out a mortgage on an apartment, but will be forced to draw up wills for financial, legal and psychological protection; to prove our relationship exists. One is tempted to lobby for the introduction of a special homosexual income tax scale that slides down according to our reduced legal and human rights.
My Mardi Gras project has been to contact each of the 120-odd parade entries and floats this year to find out more about what they are doing, then write them up in the souvenir program to be distributed along the parade route.
Last year, the Mardi Gras organisation, which in 2003 collapsed under a mountain of debt, tottered back to life on its heels, hence “New” Mardi Gras. The new organisation, from my observations, is not without some problems.
Chiefly, there is a need to unite the old community focus with the new, financially necessary corporate drive to survive. The two halves don’t quite yet make the whole. These kinks need to be ironed out to avoid the sort of hubris and division that brought “old” Mardi Gras down two years ago.
The Mardi Gras board, preoccupied with the corporate focus, temporarily took its eye off its constituent community this year. HIV fundraisers carrying their collection buckets were nearly excluded from the launch in Hyde Park four weeks ago. Gays and lesbians under 18 were ejected by police from the same event due to liquor licensing laws; an unfortunate result given the recently won battle for equalised ages of consent in NSW. It’s now legal to love your own gender at 16 in this state, but not always permissible to join in all the celebrations of that discovery, it seems.