It may have been noticeably smaller and leaner than the Opera House steps extravaganzas of recent years, but the launch of the 2003 Mardi Gras festival has been hailed a modest success.

Despite the short notice -“ the launch was confirmed just two days before the event -“ organisers have estimated 10,000 people hit Hyde Park North on Friday night.

New Mardi Gras co-chair Stevie Clayton did not try to hide her relief the event made it to the starting line.

Tonight was the first test, Clayton told the crowd. You didn’t let us down.

Clayton was one of several speakers to pay tribute to the hard work of the volunteers and community organisations who had resurrected the festival after Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras went bankrupt last year.

Last year was the year of corporate collapse in Aus-tralia with the fall of our largest insurance company HIH and the loss of a national icon in Ansett airlines. Of all of these, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has been the only one to bounce back and this is a tribute to the love, dedication and sheer determination of our community, Clayton said.

I feel it in my heart even more today that we are the most amazing of communities and when we work together with united purpose we can do anything.

Her sentiments were echoed by fellow co-chair Michael Woodhouse, who called the past five months a hell of a ride.

We believed that there was still a place in Sydney for this organisation, to bring people together, to throw a spotlight on gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer lives, he said.

All New Mardi Gras set out to do was mark out a season -“ keep the major events rolling and rely on others to fill the season up. And that has happened beyond my wildest dreams.

Woodhouse said later he was overwhelmed by the success of the launch: It really had a fantastic feel.

David Buchanan, law reform and HIV activist, barrister and ACON board member, talked about the past, present and future of gay rights in Sydney, Australia and overseas.

There are [people] who say gay has become so mainstream it doesn’t matter any more, he said.

Well, all I can say is they should tell that to the likes of John Howard and Bill Heffernan and George Pell. They don’t think we’re OK. They’re constantly telling us how we are different, that we don’t deserve the same rights as heterosexuals, that our sex is disgusting, that we need to be cured.

You’d have to live a pretty isolated existence these days not to know people who, when it comes down to it, would prefer that bis and tranys, lesbians and gays would just quietly go away. If it’s not your close relative or your co-worker, then it’s your neighbour or the local hoon who yells out -˜fucking lezzo’ because, on a public street, you’ve got your arm around your partner.

Long-time Mardi Gras DJ Richard Weiss was the first to donate his services -“ playing to a rapidly filling park from 6pm. Hayley Aitken and Trevor Ashley sang, as did Shauna Jensen, Gerry DeVeaux, Robyn Loau and Michal Nicolas, the collaborators on the 2003 Mardi Gras anthem Don’t Miss The Water.

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