The Mardi Gras parade was a sea of political celebration this year, showing the iconic Sydney event still had plenty to say even after 31 years.

Organisers claimed 2009 was the largest ever parade with 134 floats and 9700 participants, led by Olympic champion Matthew Mitcham.

The Nations United theme was represented by seven divider floats based on the world’s continents and each symbolising an issue still facing the gay and lesbian people of world: youth, HIV, closets, politics, religion, marriage and the future.

It wasn’t just the estimated 300,000 spectators crammed into Oxford and Flinders streets who got to witness the magic live, with Foxtel broadcasting the parade on Australian television for the first time since 2002.

New Mardi Gras chairman David Imrie promised it would be cheeky, sexy, serious, poignant and more, and the community delivered.

That wasn’t by accident. We had frequent feedback over recent years that Mardi Gras has become less political and more about entertainment than making a statement, so we very strategically pushed it into a different direction and it’s been very well received, he told Sydney Star Observer.

Tribute floats honoured the first Mardi Gras driver Lance Gowland and Victoria’s bushfire victims and volunteers. Dozens of community and sporting groups showed their pride, and the number of government and official agencies involved increased further.

Satire played a smaller role than in previous years as floats focused on the recent gay law reforms and raised questions about anti-discrimination and relationship recognition, with  no shortage of prospective brides and grooms.

The Australian Human Rights Commission took part for the first time to celebrate the boom in gay rights.
What better place to celebrate this historic achievement for gay and lesbian people and for equality than in the Mardi Gras parade, Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes asked.

Violence, drug and alcohol abuse were no worse than previous parades according to early reports from NSW Police, St Vincent’s Hospital and drug rovers at the official party.

Police arrested 28 people on the night for alcohol-related incidents, but Assistant Commissioner Cath Burn praised the good behaviour of most.

While the spectators and participants enjoyed a relatively incident-free night along the parade route, there were a number of incidents of anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related crime that occurred in Hyde Park and the surrounding area during and after the parade, Burn said.

Approximately 17,000 turned up to the official after-party, close to a sellout, where Tina Arena was the surprise guest and sang No More Tears (Enough is Enough) with Alison Jiear. Katherine Ellis and Natalie Bassingthwaighte also performed.

Imrie said the organisation went with a broader musical footprint this year including Las Vegas-style shows and international DJs Paul Oakenfold and the Freemasons.

We were really surprised that all our major events sold really well, Imrie said.

I know a couple of the smaller festival events didn’t sell to capacity, but all the major festival events and parties sold really well.

The only drama appeared when Joan Rivers pulled out of her Melbourne show following a ticketing dispute between two American agents.

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