A SYDNEY Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras float had a second outing at Sydney’s St Patrick’s Day festivities yesterday — and walked away with the award for best in show.
The high-profile Irish Dancing Queens float, organised by the Irish-Australian LGBTI community and sporting a message of marriage equality, made its first appearance at the Mardi Gras parade on March 7.
Mardi Gras board members trailed the float in an open top car emblazoned with shamrocks and rainbow flags to raise awareness of May’s marriage equality referendum in Ireland.
However, Mardi Gras co-chair Paul Savage, said the entry was also “a two-fingered salute to New York,” where organisers of the world’s largest St Patrick’s Day parade have apparently back-flipped on plans to allow LGBTI people to march for the first time.
The New York and Boston parades have long been mired in controversy for refusing to allow gay people to march under banners relating to sexuality.
Last year, beer brand Guinness pulled its New York parade sponsorship and Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to attend when organisers wouldn’t relent on the issue.
While Boston and New York both rescinded their outright ban on LGBTI marchers this year, the US’s largest city has continued to come under fire for only allowing one small group to enter — with only a tenuous connection to Ireland — and for placing the float at the back of the parade, effectively excluding them from TV coverage and so most crowds would miss them.
“Our visibility sends an important message to the world and, in particular, the New York St Patrick’s Day committee,” Savage said.
“The Sydney community will not stand by idly and watch as you discriminate and exclude our brothers and sisters simply for being who they are.”
Savage said he hoped Irish voters would give the green light to marriage equality in May.
However, he was concerned that politicians in Northern Ireland — where Savage hails from — were proposing a new law that would permit discrimination against LGBTI people.
“It is ludicrous to think that if I returned to Ireland I may easily get married in Dublin but may not be able to honeymoon in Belfast,” he said.
Savage said while he had no expectation about the reception they would receive at the Sydney parade, “the reaction was fantastic.”
Lorna Hennessy, a consular officer at Sydney’s Irish Consulate General and the float coordinator, said she first had the idea for a marriage equality message following her own recent wedding in Ireland.
“I had more gay people than straight people at my wedding and I thought isn’t it crazy how I can get married and you can’t?” she said.
She added that she was touched by the float’s success: “It sends this inclusive message that Sydney St. Patrick’s Day parade encompasses everyone — it’s a really warm and fuzzy feeling”.
Hennessy also said many Irish LGBTI people have emigrated to Australia, but now the tables were turning: “Sydney was a much more open place to be a member of the community and now Ireland has jumped ahead because of the marriage equality referendum.”
RELATED: St Patrick’s Day for all — by Paul Savage (Opinion)