Why Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a Highlight on the City's Calendar

11010596_823850160986252_5721942933302548311_nI have many amazing memories of Mardi Gras, from judging the parade floats atop Oxford St shop awnings to marching with a group of "Clovers", dressed in my likeness wearing business suits and big wigs.

A lot has changed in the last 20 years — I am glad we have moved on from those big hairstyles — but the parade is as relevant and fantastic as ever.

This year, I will again join gay and lesbian friends in the Mardi Gras Parade, now in its 38th year and the largest night-time celebration of LGBTI pride in the world. The glamour, wit and a sense of outrageous fun make it a highlight of my year. Nothing matches the experience.

Mardi Gras gives us the chance to celebrate with our gay and lesbian communities, their families and friends. It's an opportunity to see some of the best of Sydney — its diversity, its exuberance and love of a good time.

But alongside the confetti, the glitter and dancing shoes, Mardi Gras is also an important symbol of pride in who we are. Despite the progress we've made, many lesbians and gay men still face appalling discrimination in the workplace, at school and even in some families. Both major parties still consider the love of same sex couples second-rate. And LGBTI Australians are six times more likely to take their own lives than other Australians. That's why celebrating this community and helping to create an environment free from fear of discrimination or ostracism is so important.

In 1978, Mardi Gras started as a street party which became a protest march and ended in a riot. They were very different times. Homophobia was rife, and homophobic slurs were common. We saw friends die from AIDS-related diseases and suffer discrimination even in death when family members failed to honour their wishes over their estate or their request to be buried with their partner.

It was hard then to imagine Mardi Gras becoming a permanent fixture on Sydney's calendar that continues to grow and inspire the community. But in 2015 we can look back and reflect on where we started and delight in the event Mardi Gras has become.

10996366_823850057652929_8322924899090568330_nThe City of Sydney will once again fly the rainbow flag above Town Hall this year. It joins the 200 rainbow banners we've flown along Oxford and Flinders streets since 2005, and the giant flag six storeys high above Taylor Square. And this year I wrote to all mayors across NSW inviting them to join in flying a rainbow flag in their councils during the Mardi Gras festival.

This will also be the 10th year the City of Sydney will have a parade float, which will feature around 70 staff and volunteers dressed as pom-pom cheerleaders, band majors, baton twirlers and flag bearers "cheering" for equality.

These important symbols help to make clear that Sydney is an inclusive, welcoming, LGBTI-friendly city and that we are proud supporters of our LGBTI community.

The City of Sydney's commitment to the LGBTI community extends further, as the only council in Australia to employ a dedicated LGBTI officer. This year we increased our annual Mardi Gras sponsorship by almost 20 per cent to more than $1.5 million over three years.

One of the great pleasures of representing Sydney, first as an independent state MP and now as Lord Mayor, is being involved in the range of gay and lesbian community events across the city. It has been a privilege to share with your community the joys and tragedies, battles and achievements. I look forward to seeing you out on the parade route and the many adjoining events for this year's Mardi Gras.

This article was first published in the March edition of the Star Observer: http://www.starobserver.com.au/opinion/why-sydney-gay-and-lesbian-mardi-gras-is-a-highlight-on-the-citys-calendar/133615

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