Sydney’s gay and lesbian community has traditionally united in celebration at the annual launch of the Mardi Gras season.

This year, however, the season opener has sparked unprecedented reaction for a Mardi Gras event.

Friday’s Launch was hampered by technical problems and slow bar service, and condemned by attendees.

About 4,000 people headed to the Opera House steps to celebrate the first season opener at the iconic venue since 2002.

Sound system glitches impeded a video of season highlights before Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore delivered the opening address.

The crowd’s mood deteriorated in the face of hour-long bar queues and a seemingly unstructured program. Many were also upset by the tone set by the entertainment line-up, particularly the use of rap act Sista She as hosts. There were also reports the bar ran out of food by 7pm.

New Mardi Gras chair Marcus Bourget used his speech later in the evening to apologise for the bar service -“ a problem that also dogged last year’s Launch in Hyde Park.

I know it’s not been ideal. I thank you for your patience and I’m sorry, he told the crowd.

This week Bourget admitted the Launch could have gone better.

Asked by the Star if he believed the event was a failure, he said: I think it was great to be back at the Opera House and I think people appreciated that.

Bourget was unable to explain the poor bar service.

I don’t have an answer for that right now, he said. It’s part of the whole debrief process.

Bourget would not give specific details of what that process involved.

As to whether Launch justified its $10 entry charge -“ the first paid entry in the event’s history -“ Bourget said: The days have passed when all our events can be free. We’re in a different type of ball game.

Asked for his response to community anger after Launch, Bourget said: There’s been a variety of feedback and I thank everyone for their criticism for that and we’re certainly taking it on board.

The audience reaction to the launch was clear by the time Bankstown mayor Helen Westwood took to the stage for her keynote address at about 9pm, when at least one-third of the crowd had walked out.

The outcry has continued this week. Most of the scores of postings about the event on gay website Pinkboard and the Sydney Star Observer site lambasted the season opener.

Pinkboard stopped posting Launch comments on Monday afternoon -“ After that it is time to move on to the rest of the festival, the website’s moderator said.

Despite the hostile reaction, Marcus Bourget denied the event set a negative tone for the 2006 season.

The festival events are going forward, we’re getting really good feedback about our other events and we’re really excited about Fair Day in a couple of weeks and Parade and Party, he said.

I think there’s a really good feeling still about Mardi Gras.

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