Hasn’t the Sydney Mardi Gras overhaul caused a stir? New logo, new name and a new direction that celebrates diversity and opens up the street party to, dare I say it, straight people.

On one hand I have hetero pals angry on my behalf that that “my” festival isn’t “mine” any more, while on the other hand curious high school kids totally brained out by the LGBTIQ alphabet soup see an opportunity to be part of something — even if they’re not quite sure how they fit in.

Even though this move has pissed off a lot of gays and lesbians, I think Mardi Gras just got cool. As a queer who can’t stand house music or even the Indigo Girls, I’ve often felt excluded from events like Mardi Gras because they seem to celebrate clichéd gay culture. I joined the board of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival a few years back for this very reason.

Every summer I’d whinge that it was a big, mainstream “poof fest” that had nothing for my friends and me — so I stopped complaining and got involved.

That year we had hot lezzos and gay boys, trannies, indie-queers and a diverse mix of LGBTIQRSTUVXYZs on the cover of the festival guide and the line-up of events reflected this. The following year, Midsumma replaced the gay and lesbian festival tagline with ‘Celebrating Queer Culture’ to reflect the diversity of the community.

In my eyes, Mardi Gras has just taken it one step further. While critics see the festival’s broader scope as a way of appealing to corporate sponsors, and there’s probably some truth in that, I see it as a brave attempt to keep in touch with the community.

Our community is a mixed lolly bag of sexualities, genders, scene queens, scene haters, queers, normals and folks who change their minds as often as they change their undies. The Sydney Mardi Gras has a place for all of us, our friends, families and those of us whose lives aren’t defined by our sexual preference.

A definite positive that’s come from the festival announcement is how it’s got people talking about the history of Mardi Gras. I’ve learnt more about the ’78ers these past few days than ever before — the 52 arrests and the horrible brutality those pioneers endured to give me the freedoms I have today — and it’s important we never forget this.

We’ve come a long way, we’ve got a long way to go, but as a young queer I think we’re on the right track.

By MONIQUE SCHAFTER

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