“It wasn’t always sequined hot pants, fake tan and glitter,” Courtney Act says about Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Australia’s — and one of the world’s — biggest, gayest parties. The festivities have already kicked off Down Under, with the biggest party of the year taking place this Saturday, March 4. It’s a 10-hour event!
In the video below, the Drag Race alumna schools us on the gay event’s backstory, which stretches all the way back to 1978. But much like Pride celebrations stateside, Sydney Mardi Gras wasn’t always a party.
It began as a protest, with hundreds of people marching down Oxford Street clamoring for their rights. It ended in violence, with protestors clashing with police and many protesters’ names being published in the newspaper the next day, effectively outing them (a pretty dickish move). Many lost their jobs because being gay was illegal in Australia at the time.
Eventually Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras became a party, and even in the early ’80s it brought together 20,000 people!
There was more drama in the mid-’80s, during the AIDS epidemic, when people wanted the parade — a symbol of LGBT life itself — to be banned.
By the ’90s, though, as Courtney Act explains, Sydney Mardi Gras went mainstream. It was aired on Aussie TV and lured big-name performers including Kylie Minogue.
“Since 1978, we’ve marched, pranced, Vogued, sashayed and fought our way through everything that’s been thrown at us,” Act says. “We now stand up and shout our names to the world instead of waiting for the papers to expose us.”
Watch Courtney Act explain the history of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras:
(Featured photo of Courtney Act at 2015 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras via Sydney Scoop)