AS a closeted transgender teenager still struggling to accept myself in Perth during the early 1980s, Sydney’s nascent Mardi Gras loomed large as a beacon of hope just beyond the horizon — well out of reach, yet serving as a constant reminder that somewhere else across this wide brown land, other people just like me were starting to break free of historical oppression and beginning that long march towards freedom and real equality.

Long before I ever got to actually participate in it, simply knowing that Mardi Gras existed was truly life-changing for me and I suspect it still plays that role for many LGBTI people living in regional and rural Australia.

By the time I moved to Sydney permanently in the late 1980s that shimmering beacon of hope was already evolving into a cultural force majeur. During the 1990s Mardi Gras became an annual love tsunami, engulfing this city and engaging the entire nation in a passionate conversation about human rights and personal freedom, incrementally washing away the stains of historical hatred and propelling all of us towards a brighter, ever more diverse and inclusive future.

From all that glitter, the glamour and the freedom just to be oneself, Mardi Gras helped forge a unifying queer narrative which inspired us to believe we could change the world — and change it we did.

Over the decades, Mardi Gras has come to symbolise the progressive social and political movement which successfully dragged this city kicking and screaming from the bigoted back water it frankly once was, to become the increasingly pluralistic and inclusive world city we so enjoy today.

So it is today that I think of Mardi Gras as Sydney’s jewel in the crown, as the shimmering diamond of endless diversity to which we each bring our own individual lustre.

That “big picture” symbolism remains incredibly important to me, but so do the many other things I love about Mardi Gras. For example, the role it plays as a social glue — drawing people together to unleash their personal passions to explore new ideas and express their creativity and individuality. I’m constantly blown away by the deep sense of camaraderie that develops between teams of volunteers as we work together to bring a particular project or vision to fruition. Our decision to launch the Carmen Rupe Memorial Trust on a shoe string budget as part of the Mardi Gras Festival in 2013 remains a wonderful illustration of just how life-changing these experiences can be. With little more than loads of love and passionate commitment, our small team of volunteers exceeded our wildest expectations — producing a wonderful launch event and the “My Polynesian Love” float that won us a Mardi Gras Award for Best Community Event and Best Show-Stopping Float.

This for me is the real magic of Mardi Gras: its capacity to empower all of us to be more confident, creative, to believe we can achieve more than we ever dared dream and to forge life-long friendships in the process.

Happy Mardi Gras, everybody.

Kelly Glanney leads the Carmen Rupe Memorial Trust, a NSW organisation advocating for trans* and gender-diverse people. She is also an Executive Director of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

**This article was first published in the March edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

RELATED: Carmen’s Legacy

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RELATED: MARDI GRAS’ SIGNIFICANCE IN AUSTRALIAN LGBTI HISTORY — By Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives’ chair Graham Willet

RELATED: THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL — By NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby convenor Justin Koonin

RELATED: WHY SYDNEY GAY AND LESBIAN MARDI GRAS IS A HIGHLIGHT ON THE CITY’S CALENDAR— By City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore

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