SYDNEY will be the centre of national attention on Saturday night with the largest nighttime LGBTI pride parade in the world expected to bring the city to a standstill once again.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is a chance for the community to come together to commemorate, celebrate, and communicate the universal message of diversity, equality, and passion.

It has come a long way since 1978, when LGBTI community members first took to the streets wearing costumes and carrying placards calling for rights and acceptance on the ninth anniversary of New York City’s Stonewall Riots.

Today, the parade flows like a river of queer humanity, switching effortlessly between sexy and satire and an extravaganza of lavish floats, political statements and spectacular costumes.

Spectators are encouraged to arrive early to obtain the best vantage point along the parade route — from the start of Oxford St at Darlinghurst down to Flinders St — to watch 10,000 people march with pride.

A snapshot from the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 (PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

A snapshot from the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

This year’s parade will be led scores of elite athletes to help shine a light on homophobia in sport, and to also highlight the advances that have been made to make Australian sport more inclusive in the past year.

The big names marching include AFL’s Mike Pyke and Nick Smith, rugby union’s Matt Toouma and Lachlan Mitchell, cricket’s Ellyse Perry, Alex Blackwell and Greg Matthews, rugby league’s Paul Langmack, soccer’s Ryan Grant and openly-gay Olympians Matthew Mitcham and Daniel Kowalski.

The first three floats of the parade will be dedicated to highlighting the coming out and success of elite gay athletes; the commitment by Australia’s major sporting codes to promote a more diverse and inclusive sporting environment; and the international success of the Sydney Convicts, who last year won the Bingham Cup, the “world cup” of gay rugby union.

Another sporting highlight of the parade is the gay-inclusive waterpolo club Sydney Stingers float, which will throw an Amazonian pool party.

A snapshot from the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 (PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

The Sydney Stingers in the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

The Irish Dancing Queen is also expected to be another highlight in the parade, featuring well-known Irish activist Panti Bliss and Australia’s own DJ Dan Murphy.

The float not only aims to celebrate Ireland and its connection to Australia, but it’s also relevant with the upcoming Irish referendum on marriage equality in May — and how Australia still does not have marriage equality.

Long-standing south Asian LGBTI advocacy group Trikone will have a float themed Bollywood is the New Black to highlight the LGBTI community in India, the world’s most populous democracy where a penal code was recently re-introduced to homosexuality illegal again.

Last year, the award-winning Dr Mark’s Marching Academy’s parade entry Putin’ on the Ritz lampooned Russian president Vladimir Putin and his so-called “gay propaganda” laws. This year, they’ve opted for something a little more light-hearted; passionfruits.

A float that is shaping up to be a strong contender for Float of the Year is the Beyonce G Spot Memorial Float, which will pay tribute to Sascha Fierce, one of Sydney’s premier drag performers, who died in 2013. The float will re-create one of Fierce’s most memorable performances, The Little Merdrag, to put forth a message of acceptance and being a “Part of Your World” — a nod to the adopted “gay anthem” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

Meanwhile, the Grecian-themed Glamazon All-Stars will celebrate “justice, unity and equality”, with a chariot pulled by muscly men, topped by the Mother of Justice, in glimmering silver and white robes and carrying her scales. 

A snapshot from the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 (PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

A snapshot from the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade (PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

Australian groups from Melbourne, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and regional NSW will have floats representing them as well. One of these is the Way Out West float, featuring line-dancers in flannies and blundstones.

Some groups will be joining the parade for the first time, such as University of Western Sydney’s (UWS) LGBTI support group Ally Network, which aims to send a message that UWS is a place “for all, by all and with all”.

This year also represents the 16th consecutive year that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) participates in Mardi Gras. Like many state police forces, the AFP also has a Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO) network that acts as a link between the LGBTI community and police and supports LGBTI members of the AFP and management.  

Senior Constable Emma Hodges, a long-term AFP GLLO, will be marching in the NSW Police tribute float to help them celebrate 25 years of GLLOs in NSW Police.

However, the Australian Defence Force may steal AFP’s spotlight, with the top guns set to throw their weight behind LGBTI service personnel. The ADF recently confirmed that the most senior enlisted member of each of the three armed forces will — for the first time — march in next month’s iconic parade.

The Australian Defence Force in the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

The Australian Defence Force in the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

PARADE DETAILS:

WHEN: Saturday, March 7

TIME: 7.30pm

WHERE: Oxford and Flinders streets, Darlinghurst (Sydney)

This is a free event, but tickets to tickets for The Diamond Club and Parade Sideshow viewing areas are available at www.mardigras.org.au

Motorists are advised to avoid the Sydney CBD and Moore Park areas this weekend while roads are closed. For more information visit www.livetraffic.com or call 132 701.

For information on changes to public transport go to www.transportnsw.info or call 131 500 Transport Info Line.

View Star Observer’s photo galleries from the 2014 Mardi Gras Parade:

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