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Mardi Gras parade | © Destination NSW
Mardi Gras parade | © Destination NSW

Why Sydney's 2018 Mardi Gras Makes LGBT History

Picture of Tom Smith
Updated: 19 January 2018

The annual sequin-studded shimmy up Oxford St known as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is always one of the most glittering highlights on the Harbour City’s cultural calendar, but the 2018 instalment promises to be even bigger than usual. The 40th anniversary of the Mardi Gras comes hot on the heels of Australia’s long-overdue marriage equality triumph, and will be toasted with a bumper line-up of events headlined by megastar gay icon Cher.

Anniversary

From humble beginnings as an anti-discrimination protest in 1978, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has blossomed into one of the world’s premier LGBTQI celebrations. This year marks a major milestone for Mardi Gras, which has become one of Australia’s premier public events — a party that attracts tens of thousands of visitors from interstate and overseas, projecting Sydney at its tolerant, vibrant, easy-going best.

Reveller at Mardi Gras | © Stephen Yee/Destination NSW copy

Reveller at Mardi Gras | © Stephen Yee/Destination NSW

A massive program of cultural events has also been curated to reflect on the four fabulous decades of the Sydney Mardi Gras, focusing on the theme ‘40 Years of Evolution’. Two solid weeks of parties and performances, exhibitions and events, festivals and family fun days, kick off on Friday, February 16 with the ceremonial raising of the rainbow flag above Sydney Town Hall and culminating with the iconic parade on Saturday, March 3.

Following a record number of applications in 2018, 12,000 participants across 200 floats will take part in the march up Oxford St. A number of floats will be dedicated to the history of the LGBTQI community, including the 78ers who marched in that very first Mardi Gras as well as a float remembering family and friends who have died of AIDS/HIV-related illnesses. More than 300,000 revellers are expected to flood the streets of Sydney for the parade, and ticketed events and viewing experiences around Flinders St and Taylor Square are selling faster than pots of body glitter and mini rainbow flags in the build-up to the big night.

Marriage equality

Mardi Gras began as a gay rights protest that encountered brutal resistance from police way back in 1978, and although the focus these days has shifted away from the politics and more towards the party, the parade has never lost its activist streak. The event has spent decades pushing the message of diversity and acceptance — and in more recent times, countless floats have demanded long-overdue marriage equality in Australia.

Stephen Lee performs the first legal male same-sex wedding in Australia | Courtesy of Stephen Lee

Stephen Lee performs the first legal male same-sex wedding in Australia | © Courtesy of Stephen Lee

After a long and unedifying public debate around an unpopular postal survey that returned an emphatic ‘yes!’ vote from the electorate, Australia finally caught up to the rest of the developed world in December 2017 by legalising same-sex marriage. The first ceremonies have already taken place and many more are scheduled for the rest of 2018, so this Mardi Gras lands smack-bang in the middle of those feelgood vibes surrounding the LGBTQI community.

Cher

Don’t believe that this year’s Mardi Gras will be the biggest ever? There’s an uber-fabulous 71-year-old wearing fishnet stockings who might convince you. Following in the footsteps of fellow gay icons Boy George, Kylie Minogue, George Michael, Cyndi Lauper and RuPaul, Cher is headlining the legendary Mardi Gras Parade Party in Moore Park straight after the big event. Tickets sold out as soon as Cher tweeted last December, a not-so-subtle hint that she’d be performing. Those who were lucky enough to snaffle one of the $250 tickets will dance until dawn to Cher’s greatest hits, as well as a jam-packed line-up of some of Australia’s hottest DJs.

“Cher has established herself as an influential, hard-hitting voice in global politics, and throughout her career has been at the forefront of LGBTQI campaigns and numerous charities,” said Mardi Gras CEO Terese Casu. “Cher represents the same unapologetic and fearless freedom that makes the LGBTQI community so enduring and strong, positioning herself as a true gay icon.”