NSW Governor Marie Bashir will join Courtney Act, Bob Downe and Judi Connelli on stage in Hyde Park this Friday night for the official launch of the 2005 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival.

Governor Bashir will give the welcome address to an expected 15,000 people and will speak on this year’s festival theme, Our freedom, your freedom.

Her participation shows there are people in the government willing to support us and who see the benefit of what our event brings to the city, New Mardi Gras co-chair Steph Sands said.

Bashir has a history of supporting Sydney’s queer community organisations, including the NSW Gay And Lesbian Counselling Service and The Luncheon Club.

Comedian Bob Downe will MC the event, which will feature performances by the Dikes On Mikes Lesbian Idol finalists, Courtney Act, Cher impersonator Candi Stratton, Enda Markey, Sexy Galexy and Claire de Lune. Entertainer Judi Connelli will give the keynote address.

Launch is the start of a huge season for us, Sands said, adding that the night would close with a surprise finale that’s going to knock your socks off.

While alcohol will be available to purchase, this year police are not allowing people to bring alcohol or glass into or out of the event. A New Mardi Gras spokesperson said the organisation wanted to make it very clear: This is not a New Mardi Gras directive, rather one enforced by the police.

Straight after the launch the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby is holding fundraisers at both Stonewall and the Colombian. Most of the money raised will go toward creating the Lobby’s Mardi Gras float, while some of it will go into their next major campaign on parenting.

There is also the post-launch dance party ThunderBird at Arq, featuring the likes of DJs Kate Monroe, Alex Taylor, DJ Josh, Mark Murphy and Sveta.

The launch kicks off four weeks of over 100 queer arts, sporting and community events taking place all around Sydney. The festival ends on 5 March with the parade and party.

The Launch starts at 8pm at Hyde Park on Friday 4 February. It will finish at approximately 9:30pm, though DJs will play music in the park until 11pm. Entry to the Colombian and Stonewall is free, while ThunderBird at Arq costs $25 in advance or $30 on the door.

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