Streetlevel Pre-Mardis Gras Service

(6.30pm, Streetlevel)

What a wonderful way to acknowledge Mardi Gras Eve - coming together in a spirit of celebration and thanksgiving.

Mardi Gras is seen as many things - as night of glamour and fun; as a celebration of pride, dignity and diversity and as an important statement in support of equality and human rights.

Most importantly, it is the coming together of the GLBTI community and its friends and supporters. It is a statement that this community is a strong community, a resilient community and a caring community.

I've seen this strong community spirit over the past few weeks - at Fair Day, at the Mardi Gras Film Festival and at the launch of the Bear Essentials Festival and at the SGLBA event last night - US Ambassador gave a powerful speech about human rights fight that is still so needed fr so many.

How could it be any other way?

In the dark days, when homosexuals were seen as evil, perverted, sick people who should be locked up or subject to spurious terrible "cures", there was no one else.

Yet, as our community historians have shown us, lesbians and gay men established friendship networks, support groups and even social clubs. Initially they were forced to operate in secret, but gradually as attitudes changed these groups became more visible.

From the 1970s onwards, your community established a range of organisations, services, groups and media outlets. There were social clubs, sporting and recreational groups, choirs, a theatre company and more. With this foundation, it's no wonder that Mardi Gras was able to grow into an all-embracing community celebration.

This solid foundation proved crucial when the community, particularly the gay male community, had to face its greatest challenge - AIDS and HIV. The way you met this challenge, in the face of virulent hatred, anger and homophobia, is a testament to the strength of the community Your response to AIDS and HIV is seen not only in the organisations you formed - ACON, the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, People Living with HIV/AIDs - but in the countless stories of people helping and supporting people with HIV.

It was in these years that the community showed the world the meaning of sharing and caring. Those dark days are now behind us. New therapies and drugs have made a major difference.

We can look to the future with optimism, at least in Australia. I am sure that the last barriers to equality will come down, may be not this year or next, but hopefully before this decade is out. And we can celebrate what has been achieved.

Happy Mardi Gras!