It seems incredible that Mardi Gras season is upon us again. The change that has been wrought across the world since the last time we all came together to celebrate would have sounded absolutely bonkers if you’d told us what we’d be going through in the subsequent twelve months. Yet here we are!
Battered and bruised but surviving better than most, Australia is ready to celebrate Mardi Gras again in 2021 and what better theme could we have this year but RISE!
The following are stories from members of our communities who always RISE to make a difference.
JULIE MCCROSSIN – SHE/HER
78er, Broadcaster, Journalist, Sydney
You might recognise Julie McCrossin because she has been featuring on Australian radios and televisions since the 80s and is also one of the ‘78ers’ – that revered group of LGBTQI legends who participated in the events in Sydney in 1978 including the first Mardi Gras, protests at Darlinghurst and Central Police Stations and Central Court, and marches through the city.
“I remember it as a time of trauma because I wasn’t used to being put into police cells or locked up in paddy wagons and being at the women’s cell at Liverpool Street courthouse with 20 or 30 other women from the demonstrations.
“My most happy recent memory is walking up Oxford Street with my friend Emily Dash. Emily is a disability advocate, filmmaker, writer and actor and I’m going to be interviewing her as part of my Queer Thinking session.
“We walked up Oxford Street together. She and her wheelchair and her support person, both of them in these sexy busty outfits. Emily had her hand out and as she went up the side of Oxford Street hundreds of people high-fived her as she went up. That’s what Mardi Gras embodies for me, it’s a place where Emily could advocate, explore her sexuality and her right to be a sexual being as a woman with a disability – and be applauded and celebrated for it.
“I rise for my granddaughter Billie. It brings me extraordinary joy to rise each morning to help raise a little girl who will only know celebration in a positive way with the rainbow community. That is social change.”
Dennis Golding – He / Him
Kamilaroi man, Artist, Curator & Graphic Designer, Sydney
Dennis Golding is a Kamilaroi artist, whose spark for the arts was ignited early on while watching his Mum and Aunties painting in the backyard of his childhood home in Redfern.
“One of the things that got me interested in art was seeing my Mother drawing these sketches of native animals. Kangaroos and turtles and other animals. And I asked her ‘Why are you painting these animals?’ and she said it’s because she’s connected to them.
“I realised that connection was important. Connection puts things into perspective and helps one understand their culture and identity.”
Identifying as a queer First Nations artist, Dennis understands the importance of having the space to tell your story and connecting with people in a way that only sharing intimately can bring and the way that this can help lead to acceptance amongst the wider community.
“Winning the award was such a proud moment because it’s not just an achievement for myself but for the broader Indigenous community. It’s visibility for our histories and stories.
“This year’s Mardi Gras theme is RISE. I rise for the future of my First Nations people and for First Nations artists. It’s important to rise, because you’re leaving something behind and moving into a new future.”
CHANTELL MARTIN – She/Her
Community Service Worker, Sydney
Chantell Martin was born in New Zealand, hit the shores of Sydney in the 80s and began her transition and time as a sex worker soon after.
“When you’re talking about being transgender, when you’re talking about being a sex worker, they’re right at the top of the list of things with a huge amount of stigma.”
Back in the days the laws criminalising sex work meant that even if you were assaulted, you couldn’t report it to the police for fear of being arrested for making a living. It meant looking out for each other and getting through the tough times together. Then the laws changed and in 1995, NSW became one of the first global jurisdictions to decriminalise sex work.
“I do remember a commander from the Kings Cross police station coming down and introducing himself. We would meet with him once a month at a café. Things started to change around that time.”
“From 1995 it took around 10 years for the change to really happen. But now we’re moving on. We’ve had decriminalisation now for 25 years.
“So if you ask me what I RISE for, I rise for my community to be better treated, with respect and dignity.”
DANIEL MONKS – HE/HIM
Actor & Filmmaker, Sydney
Daniel Monks started his career early, and I mean early! His stage debut came whilst his NIDA trained actor mother performed on stage while seven months pregnant with him and so he was born bitten with the acting bug.
“I played the in-utero baby,” said Daniel. “So I’ve been on the stage since before I was born. It’s all I ever loved and all I ever wanted to do.”
Unfortunately, life had other plans and at the age of 11, a large tumour was discovered in his spinal cord. Complications from the initial biopsy would ultimately leave him hemiplegic.
“At that time I thought there was no way I could be an actor with a disability, because I didn’t see disabled actors who had sustainable careers.”
To make things even more complicated, it was around this time that Daniel was realising his sexuality might be another thing that made him different to the majority of the population. It was his love for Queer cinema especially that helped him through these times of isolation, confirming the importance of the creative arts to help connect us in our times of need.
“It was very much queer cinema that made me feel so much less alone in my experience as a gay person. I also realised what being gay meant or what it could mean and what my life could look like in a way that wasn’t reflected in mainstream media.
“This year’s Mardi Gras theme is RISE. I rise for art. For me, art gives meaning to life.”
WINSTON (HE/HIM) & NAMA (SHE/HER)
Fearless Son & Proud Mother, Sydney
Even though his mum had lots of gay friends and she campaigned ‘YES’ during the marriage equality plebiscite, Winston was still worried about coming out. What he didn’t know was, the whole time he was worrying about that, his mum Nama, who had already figured that Winston was gay, was worrying about having the right reaction – which turned out to be, not having much of a reaction at all!
“It’s always that time that you’re putting kids to bed that they want to talk to you,” laughs Nama. “Winston looked at me and said ‘Mum I think I’m gay’ and I just went ‘cool’ and then there was nothing else and he just rolled over and went to sleep.”
“I didn’t go straight to sleep that night,” laughs Winston.
Nama’s advice to any parents struggling with similar questions about their child is to reach out to those around you and do as much research as possible, “Turn to the people around you. The internet, teachers, anybody who is willing to talk to you and get their perspectives. Educate yourself on something that you might not have much experience with.”
“This year’s Mardi Gras theme is RISE,” says Nama. “I rise to be a better mother each day for Winston.”
And for Winston, “I rise for a gay voice that is loud. I rise with the dream that one day every minority will be treated equally.”