The Mardi Gras launch returns to Hyde Park North on Friday 6 February with extended trading hours allowing for partying until 11pm.

Launch spokesperson Diane Minnis told Sydney Star Observer the 2003 Hyde Park launch was such a success that the launch committee recommended a return to the park this year rather than the Opera House steps, the home of the launch from 1996 to 2002.

The launch [last year] was put on as an emergency, but everybody said it was very relaxed and there was more space to move and meet people and meet up with old friends. The Opera House is an icon, but Hyde Park is more central, and a better place to have a picnic, Minnis said.

Last year the event was almost cancelled until hire costs were waived by the City of Sydney only four days before the event. The event was announced to the public by foundling organisation New Mardi Gras with only two days’ notice.

Despite this, an estimated 10,000 people took to the park, a turnout praised by then NMG co-chair Stevie Clayton as a testament to community spirit.

The success of last year’s launch also prompted organisers to extend the event’s length. Bars and food stalls will be open for longer hours, with DJs Paul Goodyear and Jayson Leahy playing until 11pm.

Columnist and lesbian mum Bridget Haire will host the event, and the guest speaker will be David Menadue. Menadue is president of the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS and the author of the autobiography Positive.

The launch is also traditionally a showcase of upcoming Mardi Gras festival events and this year Irish cabaret star Enda Markey will perform alongside Bette Midler impersonator Belinda Lemon. Vida Las Vegas, Aunty Mavis, Sexy Galexy, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir, the cast of Falsettos and a variety of roving performers will also provide entertainment throughout the night.

We’re encouraging people to come straight from work and bring a blanket, Minnis said. There’s plentiful food and drinks on offer -“ it’s going to be fantastic.

Volunteers are also sought to shake tins and sell stickers to raise money for PLWHA (NSW). Interested participants should ring Glenn on 9361 6011 or email any time in the coming week.

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