Dear Mardi Gras,

Twenty-three years ago, I attended my first (and only) Mardi Gras, and the effect of that long weekend still resonates with me today.

I arrived in Sydney on a Thursday afternoon, saw my first gay theatre event that night, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus on Friday, watched the parade from a first-floor hotel balcony on Saturday, partied all-night at the Showgrounds, and celebrated with after-parties all Sunday, before that plane ride back to Melbourne on Monday.

As a not-so-out gay man, Sydney people made me feel comfortable. From taxi drivers to retail workers, there was genuine interest from seemingly all of inner Sydney about having a fun time.

At the theatre, I watched a play with, about, and for gay men. At the choral concert, gay men proudly sang meaningful music to a gay audience.

At the hotel, I partied with friends as we watched the parade below. I walked with thousands of others up Oxford Street to the Dance Parties. I met interesting new sex partners, I was openly accepted wherever I found myself.

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 I became empowered with a feeling that had taken me from minority non-entity to social majority. Where my lifestyle was seemingly accepted by the straight world, at least for that weekend.

I hadn’t realised how embedded all this empowerment was until I was out of the inner-city Mardi Gras bubble and on my way home. I felt so filled with joy and confidence and possibility in my life, that even when the conservative homophobic taxi driver back in Melbourne referred to me being one of those ‘poofs’ I didn’t get angry, but rather in a watershed moment, I proudly said that I was indeed one of those men, and for 40 minutes we ‘discussed’ why he should get a broader perspective on why gays were here to stay. A scenario I would not have imagined possible just four days earlier. In those empowered moments, I discovered the courage to be myself and to accept that my lifestyle mattered.

Mardi Gras – just by existing you change lives for the better. You may not see or know about how you impact individuals in living rooms, or from internet blogs, but believe me, you matter. Beyond the colour and the noise, lives get changed.

From all of us who have been empowered by watching or being part of the event – a quiet thank you!

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