This time of year always sees a debate in Sydney Star Observer’s letters page and on its online forums on the contemporary relevance and purpose of Mardi Gras.

Is it an effective vehicle for advancing gay rights? Does it rein-force stereotypes about GLBT people? Is the parade intended for our own entertainment or for the benefit of the wider community? Is Mardi Gras captive to the most exhibitionist in our community? Does it fail to reflect the less flamboyant or radical of us out there?

That so many questions arise is inevitable as the event and our place in society continue to evolve.

Although Mardi Gras certainly has a role in informing the wider community about our political concerns, it’s probably been many years since it was a constructive vehicle for protest in itself.

Despite the violence that followed, the theatricality present at the first Mardi Gras was a deliberate attempt to disarm and allay the fears of a public that saw us as freaks and perverts.
With decriminalisation and other early victories, the event quickly morphed into what is really a gay pride parade -” a celebration of our difference, and often, a -˜fuck you’ to those in society who could no longer hold us back.

The most effective protests appeal to their targets’ sense of empathy by reminding them of what we have in common, rather than accentuating difference. As the Bard said, If you prick us, do we not bleed?

Theatricality may draw the public’s attention to a protest or cause, but will eventually also distract them from the seriousness of the issue at hand.

Energies aimed at seriously tackling inequality should probably be concentrated elsewhere.
I’ve often wondered what a -˜proper’ Mardi Gras parade would look like. Probably like an ANZAC Day march or something out of the Soviet Union -” columns of GLBT doctors, nurses, cops, soldiers and sailors marching respectfully in their uniforms while gay luminaries waved to the crowd. However that’s unlikely to draw a crowd of half a million on a good year.

Better to keep it a spectacle of theatre.

My hope is that when our struggle for equality is finally over, Mardi Gras will become our -˜thank you’ to society for recognising our humanity -” an artistic gift to Australia.

Perhaps one day we will even invite heterosexuals to become more involved and the event will morph into a celebration of positive sexuality and individuality for all Australians.

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