ON Sunday, February 1, Melbourne’s LGBTI community will come together to close out the Midsumma festival in a show of celebration and history for the 20th year of Pride March.

Back in 1996, the first march took almost the same route along St Kilda’s Fitzroy St, transforming the strip into a show of community pride.

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“The first one was quite extraordinary,” recalled Penny McDonald, one of the organisers of that first march.

“We had no idea how big it was going to be — we thought, ‘if we get 100 people we’ll be happy,’ and we think we got about 11,000.”

The plan had been for the march to end in O’Donnell Gardens next to Luna Park in St Kilda, but it quickly became apparent the crowd wouldn’t fit, and people spilled out onto the streets.

“There was great energy — it’s very empowering and very exciting, and just makes you feel good, it feeds you for a long time,” McDonald said.

The huge success of that first march was attributed in large part to the existence at the time of organisations like the Also Foundation, who tapped into grass roots support from groups across the community.

McDonald suggested another reason for a need in the community for a show of pride — just 18 months earlier Victoria Police had detained 463 patrons of the gay nightclub Tasty, conducting public and invasive strip and cavity searches in one of Australia’s most notorious instance of homophobic police brutality.

“That can put a lot of fear into people, so there has to be some counter from the community that goes, ‘we are not afraid’,” McDonald said.

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Although at that stage Mardi Gras in Sydney had already been running for almost 20 years, the core group of organisers wanted to create something free, accessible and community-focused.

“It’s very exciting, but it’s hard work to be involved in Mardi Gras,” McDonald argued.

“Whereas this (Pride March), people just come and they march, so there’s no huge expense that can make people feel like it’s going to be harder to be involved. So I think a march as opposed to a parade is extremely accessible to groups.”

One of the many people mobilised to support the inaugural march was radio host Dean Beck, who was at the time running a night called Boys Night Out at Three Faces nightclub — Beck went on to sit on the board of the organisation in the second year, eventually becoming president by the fourth.

“I heard that Pride March was coming up and so, as a marketing exercise I gathered 20 friends, printed up some t-shirts, and we joined the march,” he said.

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Beck echoed McDonald in saying the key principle guiding those early marches was free and easy access to a big public event for everyone in the community.

“It was going to be always free, it was never to be a political statement — by its very nature it would be political, but it was to be for everybody,” he explained.

“It was about affirming that we’re fabulous, and we’re normal, and we’re abnormal and we’re diverse and we’re here.”

The spectacle certainly attracted the attention of St Kilda locals, who came out in droves to watch.

Even 20 years on, Beck vividly remembers how he felt marching along Fitzroy St, surrounded by his community: “It just enveloped me with — I can’t think of any other word — a sense of pride.”

Pride March 2015 is on February 1. For details visit www.midsumma.org.au

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Pride March Victoria 1995 (Photo: Graham Willett; Source: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Pride March 2015 is on February 1. For details visit www.midsumma.org.au

**This article was first published in the February edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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