Mardi Gras Flag Raising Ceremony

(12pm, Friday 7 February 2014, Sydney Town Hall steps)

Hello, everyone, welcome to Town Hall, and a welcome to Her Excellency, Professor Marie Bashir.

I'd like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nations who live in our City and of course the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex community in Australia. That's transgender, not transvestite. The Sydney Morning Herald's sub-editors made that mistake in my opinion piece today.

I'd also like to acknowledge the Councillors and Deputy Lord Mayor of the City, the Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich, Co-chairs of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras - Siri Kommedahl and Paul Savage, CEO Michael Rolik and the many other GLBTI organisations here today.

We're about to raise the Rainbow Flag over Town Hall for the fifth time to mark the beginning of the 2014 Mardi Gras Festival and we already have 200 beautiful Rainbow banners in Flinders and Oxford Streets. And in a fortnight's time, I will again join gay and lesbian friends in the 37th Mardi Gras Parade, now the largest night time celebration of GLBTI pride in the world.

But Mardi Gras is much more than glitter and glamour - it remains an intensely political event and is still as relevant in 2014 as it was in 1978.

Many lesbians and gay men still face appalling discrimination, in the workplace, at school and even in some families.

There are gay men in NSW with criminal convictions because of who they loved - even though the laws they broke were appealed 30 years ago.

Our national school curriculum will be reviewed by someone who believes homosexuality is unnatural and questions whether students ought to learn about such relationships at school.

While same sex couples can now marry in many other countries, in Australia they are still denied this most basic right.

GLBTI Australians are six times more likely to take their own lives than other Australians, and overseas there are countries where gay men are imprisoned or executed - as we heard on the news this morning, that is happening in Nigeria at the moment.

Mardi Gras, like the rainbow flag, remains a vital symbol. Symbols are important. They are potent for men and women whose true natures are forced to remain invisible, because of the fear of discrimination, ostracism, persecution or even death.

In 1978, few could have contemplated that an event that was conceived as a street party, became a protest march and ended in a riot could have any future.

Who could have imagined that Mardi Gras would become a permanent fixture on Sydney's calendar let alone imagine that it would be looking forward to celebrating its fortieth anniversary. I'd like to acknowledge Ron Austin, who is here today. Ron, please come and join us on the Steps.

This significant anniversary should be marked with a tangible, permanent symbol.

I will ask Council to begin work for a major public artwork at Taylor Square, the traditional heart of Sydney's GLBTI community to celebrate this anniversary.

Many people in the GLBTI community expressed their aspirations for such an artwork at our Rainbow Rights Forum last year.

It should celebrate what has been achieved and remind us what must still be done. It should be a landmark, a destination, a meeting place and an icon. It should be something that people will want to photograph and be photographed with.

The artwork, and images of the artwork, should send a strong message that Sydney is a safe, accepting, flourishing city and that accepting inclusive cities are not only possible, but preferable.

Our experience in planning for major artworks tells us that careful planning and extensive consultation are crucial, especially with the GLBTI community. The traffic on social media this morning tells us this conversation has already begun.

I wish you all a happy Mardi Gras.