THEY were there at the first Mardi Gras and survived the ensuing police batons and trumped up legal charges, and at next month’s event it will be the 78ers who will again be right at the front for the march down Sydney’s Oxford St for the iconic parade.

It was the night of Saturday, June 24 in 1978 when members of CAMP (Campaign Against Moral Prosecution) and the Gay Solidarity Group decided to hold what was thought would be a ‘small street party’ to help mark New York’s Stonewall Riots in 1969.

The flair and colour of those marching and chanting quickly enticed hundreds of others from the streets and bars to join them so that when they turned off Oxford St and into College St, numbers were swelling close to 2000 and police were becoming tetchy.

As they say, the rest is history with 53 people eventually taken in by police and their names and other personal details published in the Sydney Morning Herald, which resulted in many losing their jobs or being outed to friends and family.

With the aid of hindsight, the events of that night can now be seen as a lightning rod for some of the transformation that has taken place across the country for LGBTI people over the last few decades.

Steve Warren, who was present at the very first Mardi Gras and is the coordinator of the 78ers group, told the Star Observer this week that all 78ers who again wished to join their double-decker bus float for the parade on March 1 were welcome to do so.

“Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has certainly come a long way since the first celebration parade in 1978,” he said.

“The subsequent turning back of anti-LGBTIQ laws and discrimination across Australia, including in NSW in 1984 and the magnitude of Mardi Gras now is amazing.

“Although there are still some big hurdles to overcome, the Mardi Gras has given a focus for the work of many groups and individuals inside and outside of Mardi Gras as well as before and after the first Mardi Gras to achieve positive change.”

The 78ers will ride at the front of the parade and will also again be involved in the rainbow flag handover.

Some refreshments will be provided onboard the bus and 78ers will also be able to watch the rest of the parade.

INFO: Contact or phone Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on (02) 9383 0900 for details.

 Image: Stephen McLaren


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