Since accidentally stumbling upon the Mardi Gras parade in 1981, comedian and “non-practising heterosexual” Gretel Killeen has been a longtime champion and ally for the LGBTI community.
Matthew Wade caught up with the media star to chat about Mardi Gras, the importance of understanding, and Darlinghurst in the ‘80s.
What was your first Mardi Gras like?
I’m pretty sure that my first Mardi Gras encounter occurred accidentally when I was trying to cross Oxford St in 1981 and bumped into the parade. Since then, I’ve danced on a parade float, co-hosted Sideshow, co-hosted the live TV broadcast, performed in Mardi Gras shows and events, and cheered from the sidelines a thousand times. I love it.
As a non-practising heterosexual I can’t speak on behalf of the LGBTI community, but I can tell you why I think the festival is important to our society as a whole.
I think the warmth, love, and sheer happiness of this festival, as well as its enthusiasm to embrace one and all over the years, has allowed many non-LGBTI people to have a greater understanding of the LGBTI community; the needs, wants, passions, politics, persecutions, loves, art, and triumphs. And understanding leads to acceptance and respect… both of which are pretty damn good.
What does the festival mean to you personally?
The festival is the embodiment of all that life should be; boldness, bravery, creativity, difference, voices for the voiceless, and platforms for the fabulous.
You’ve always been a strong supporter of the LGBTI community. What sparked this?
I started looking for a home in Darlinghurst when I was 17 in the 1980s. Darlinghurst in those days was considered to be ‘very gay’.
I moved in when I was 18 and strangely, as a conservative hetero from the North Shore, suddenly found myself amongst my ‘fellow travellers’. They’ve been my people ever since. I would not be the person I am today without the LGBTI community; my life is richer, much much much richer. I’m very, very grateful.
How did you feel when Australia finally passed marriage equality?
The day that marriage equality was achieved was absolutely joyful. It was a triumph! I hadn’t realised how starved of good news our society was. On that day we feasted upon all that could be good and right in the world and the powerful changes we could make together.
What’s the next big issue we need to focus on?
Preventing freaking nutters from ruling the world.
What can you tell us about your Mardi Gras event, The Love Love Klub?
I’m so excited about this show. It stars myself, The Gretsky’s (an enthusiastic but somewhat deluded band) and fun pals (Jean Kittson, Glynn Nicholas, Lex Marinos, The Thinker Girls, Steph Sands, Leah Rushforth, Andrew Newport, and Johnnie Cass.)
All of us are doing a spot about ‘love’ – perhaps it will be poetry, dance, song, or a humiliating story. You name it, it will be there on stage. Basically it’s a bloody funny short show of comedy, music, profundity, and ridiculousness.
What are you most looking forward to for Mardi Gras’ 40th anniversary?
This year’s Mardi Gras Party will kick off at the Entertainment Quarter at 10pm on Saturday 3 March and run through to 8am on Sunday 4 March. The lockout laws in Sydney will be lifted for the night.