This year’s Mardi Gras parade promises a return to the hard-hitting political floats of past years with a replica of St Mary’s Cathedral featured as part of the lead float entry.

Accompanied by a cast of angels, devils, and cardinals, as well as an effigy of Archbishop George Pell -“ and the Spice Girls -“ the float is sure to cause contention, given that it ridicules the church’s stance on homosexuality as well as the narrow-minded attitudes of institutions in general. It’s a bold float that will no doubt add more than a little -˜spice’ to the parade, parade director Mark Barraket told the Star. Designed by Colin Polwarth, the float will make a very political statement about institutions and the way in which they view our community.

Barraket said that around 6,600 people are involved in the 170 floats entered and some -“ like the lead float -“ will be controversial which will help make the parade a political statement rather than just an enormous party.

One such float is the HMAS Tampaphobia which will be christened and launched at Mardi Gras and accompanied by a group of walkers and dancers who will deliver a clear message that refugees are welcome.

Spokesperson Laurindo Garcia told the Star that a replica of the MV Tampa would be accompanied by effigies of key figures from the Tampa incident and that he anticipated over 100 people will help usher the float up Oxford Street. The group was born when a number of separate collectives who were interested in constructing a refugee-inspired float decided to pool resources and work together to achieve a common goal. The float will be funny and irreverent but still have a point, Garcia explained. If you can imagine this: Tim Burton has cloned John Howard and Philip Ruddock and the two are canoodling together aboard the HMAS Tampaphobia, accompanied by their trusty crew and a strong hot wind. Amongst the flotsam are dancers wearing lifejackets and swinging to a disco beat who -˜rescue’ babes tossed from the ship by Ruddock and Howard, while other marchers will hand out Australian -˜visas’ to the crowd.

We recognise that gay, lesbian and transgender asylum seekers face further discrimination when they make their applications, Garcia continued. According to the International Lesbian and Gay Association only a handful of countries will accept asylum applications based on sexual orientation and acceptance on these terms is usually high restrictive.

Another float sure to raise parental ire features ABC stalwart and kiddie icon, Bob the Builder, and is the contribution of the Mardi Gras workshop staff. At three metres high and complete with a pierced nipple, Bob will definitely be a highlight, Barraket said.

Black White+Pink will again focus the Parade’s attention on issues of aboriginal reconciliation. They are hoping to mass up to 300 people for their walking group: A sea of feet: walking the queer mile for reconciliation and justice. The group will be led by local indigenous drag icons Miss Dorreen Manganini and Miss Ruby Royal Reserve who will be joined by Brisbane’s Miss La Queena Hunt and Mt Isa’s Ms Roshumba Paris-Starr.

After years of attempting to balance the themes of remembering absent friends who have been lost to the AIDS virus as well as focusing on the struggle to survive day to day, the Mardi Gras-sponsored HIV/AIDS section will be split to reflect this duality.

After consultation with HIV/AIDS community groups, Mardi Gras and the groups involved in HIV/AIDS entries will address the issues of Remembrance and Living with HIV/AIDS by allowing each theme its space and place on the night. In 2002, for the first time, there will be a separate remembrance statement event, said Barraket. This dignified and poignant statement of remembrance will feature a group march, just before Dykes on Bikes roar up the route to signal that the parade is about to start.

Representatives of the HIV and AIDS groups, holding banners of remembrance and led by a flare carrier, will proceed down the parade route (from the end area to the start) and venues and sites along the route have been asked -“ as a sign of respect -“ to turn off all music and sound systems when the Remembrance Statement passes.

Within the body of the parade, over 20 HIV/AIDS groups from around Australia will be led under the banner Celebrate Life. Mardi Gras -“ supported by Budget Rent-A-Car -“ is also providing two 12-seater mini-buses for PLWHAs who may not be well enough to walk the route.

Apart from having the HIV/AIDS groups in one section, we’ve also decided to put the youth groups together to highlight youth causes and issues, Barraket explained. As has been shown by the incredible success of the Velocity dance party, it’s important that queer youth are given a voice because they are the future.

As in 2001, the Marching Group will comprise a combined force of marching boys, girls and drag kings and queens who will get physical in its salute to Gay Games, but will stop short of a Taylor Square routine this year. It’s a case of -˜been there, done that’, mused Barraket. This year’s Mardi Gras is more traditional and the marching group is basically a straight entry moving up the parade route. Mardi Gras has always had the policy of -˜moving people along’ up the route, so it makes sense to reinstate that tradition for this year’s parade.

Gary Leeson, artistic director of the Mardi Gras Marching Group, said that the rehearsal schedule would be tighter this year because the group would not have the added pressure of the Taylor Square showdown, nor an additional show at the party afterwards. Rehearsals started on Tuesday and there’s already a good vibe, he said. In the beginning, the group arrive -“ all eyeing each other off -“ but by the end of the week, it’s one big happy family. And already, the boys have been making their pom-poms and the costumes are almost done now, so rehearsal week should be a great week.

Thematically, Leeson has gone for an entirely gold and white theme, which he hopes will sparkle all the way up the parade route. This year, we’re going for an 80s retro feel with a remix of an 80s classic. And yes, it is Let’s Get Physical, he laughed.

Twelve hundred parade officials will line the street on the night to handle the crowds and deal with emergencies, and will be identified by tee-shirts bearing the slogan Walk a mile in our shoes. The aim of this slogan, Barraket explained, is to encourage straight Australian society to consider the issues that we, as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, face in our lives -“ issues such as youth suicide, unequal age of consent, access to IVF and the fight for religious acceptance.

But it’s important to acknowledge that walking in our shoes can be absolutely fantastic, he continued. We are successful in our places of work, on the sporting field, in the way in which we form meaningful and loving relationships and most of all, in our ability to celebrate and party.

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