As I prepare to take my martial arts students into this year’s Mardi Gras Parade, I realised our concession to glamour is very meek.

Really, we look a bit like the Amish compared to the nudish with feathers. Shiny poles and a shiny purple belt.

Let me ponder, as a ’78er, the true meaning of Mardi Gras. Yes, I am veteran of the ‘first war’ — the Anzacs of the gay community. I often enjoy the “Are you really that old?” comments as the 20-somethings pour into my classes.

The big picture is about spectacle, celebration, culture. Politics, you say? It’s a hard thing to measure as we merge with the mainstream so someone somewhere is making a buck. Is that bad? As long as some of it goes to fighting homophobia for many instead of just lining the pockets of a few.

As I say to my students and anyone who perceives me as older and wiser (not always), you pay a price for everything. The more mainstream we get, the more the issues of discrimination through law, attitudes, values, violence, etc are diluted until they are in danger of getting lost.

Give the peasants bread and circuses to keep them from questioning the system. Keep in mind that everything you do is political as well as personal.

Sydney has a fantastic GLBTI community where you barely need to confront obvious homophobia and every straight person boasts of having gay friends as long as it doesn’t cost them anything.

Who is prepared to stand up and be counted when GLBTIs aren’t so happy? Homophobia is very deeply implanted in everyone’s psyche, especially if you are GLBTI.

What can you do? Get involved in issues and stand up and be counted when it’s tough. Donate, march, get involved in action groups, be clearer with yourself about who you are and participate. Mardi Gras may be a circus but it’s our circus!

Find out about the history of Mardi Gras. The first Mardi Gras was not pretty. The ’78ers History Group runs ‘dos’ regularly so you can find out. Gay marriage — go to the demos, whether you give a fuck or not. You never know who you’ll meet!

And for young gay men — for Christ’s sake, wear a bloody condom.

Lest we forget.

info: Penny Gulliver is the founder and instructor of GLMA Martial Arts, a veteran GLBTI activist and author of Penny Gulliver’s Self-Defence Handbook For Women (Hale and Iremonger).

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