For this year’s Mardi Gras special edition, the Star Observer spoke to some community leaders from around the country about what the festival means to them. Here is what they had to say.

Louise Herron AM, Chief Executive Officer, Sydney Opera House:

“Like the Sydney Opera House, the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was born into a very different country – Australia in the 1970s – and has played a transformative role in our national life ever since.  As an ambassador for diversity and acceptance in our society — and as one hell of a party — Mardi Gras continues to inspire more than 35 years on. I would also like to acknowledge the invaluable contribution made by members of the LGBTI community every day to the success of what we do at the Opera House. From one Sydney icon to another, Happy Mardi Gras.”

Ian Narev, Chief Executive Officer, Commonwealth Bank:

“Too often, members of the LGBTI community feel the need to hide a big part of who they really are. The Mardi Gras is the polar opposite. It is a celebration and expression of the identity of many important members of our society. This is an inspiring symbol well beyond the LGBTI community. It encourages people to be proud of who they are. I wish the LGBTI community, and the many others who will enjoy the celebrations, a happy and safe Mardi Gras.”

Charlie Pickering, Host – Channel Ten’s The Project:

“I think Mardi Gras is an important cultural event. It should be treated the same way as we treat Sydney Festival and Chinese New Year. It is part of having a rich culture. It is part of being proud of all of the pieces of culture here in Australia.

I imagine (the 78ers) who faced reprisals, criminal punishment and physical intimidation would be very proud of what Mardi Gras has become as an important cultural event. I think you owe it to those sorts of brave pioneers of the cause to enshrine something like this as a cultural event that is part of the Sydney family.”

Penny Wong, Federal Labor Senator for South Australia:

“This is the first time I have marched in Mardi Gras. I feel excited and pleased that I will have that opportunity. It is an important event for our community and the country and another way that I can add my voice to those calls for equality.”

Kate Carnell, Chief Executive Officer, beyondblue:

“Mardi Gras is really important to beyondblue because it is a time we can show our support to the LGBTIQ community and most importantly send a message that it is not OK to discriminate against people simply for being who they are. Certainly beyondblue would like to wish everyone a happy Mardi Gras and let’s celebrate diversity.”

Ben Grill’s Heather #1, Drag artist and performer on the Free Gay and Happy float:

“Sometimes it feels like we’ve made so much progress on LGBTI rights — but then you see what’s going on in Russia and Uganda and it feels like there is so much work still to be done. And since the current Prime Minister is not on our side, I feel this year we need to be even louder and prouder.

Personally, I will be in head-to-toe sequins, French kissing my partner of 17 years on top of a giant French-themed wedding cake, from the very start of the parade to the finish line. The pash that lasts the entire parade. Standing up for marriage equality and LGBTI rights around the world is only getting more important — we cannot become complacent just because there’s a gay couple on Modern Family. Too much work to be done still.”

Peter Black, President Brisbane Pride Festival:

“Mardi Gras is an extraordinary celebration of our diverse, exciting community.  When you walk the streets of Sydney during Mardi Gras, there is such a welcoming, friendly vibe that is present throughout the city. And I think increasingly that is what makes Mardi Gras so special — it is not just an event for the LGBTIQ community, it is also an event that captures the imagination of all Sydney, and indeed all of the country.”

Elias Jahshan, Editor, Star Observer:

“For me, the annual Mardi Gras is about acknowledging how far we’ve come in terms of LGBTI rights in Australia, and raising awareness on how much more we have to do. It’s also a celebration of diversity and inclusiveness, yet still making a positive statement of our individuality.

The latter resonates with me the most on a personal level. Having grown up in western Sydney, coming from an Arabic-speaking background and living with hearing impairment — I know what it’s like to be a member of a minority, and I know the importance of breaking down stereotypes and the need to reflect our community’s diversity to a wider audience. When I march down Oxford St on Saturday, it will be chance for me to make myself visible and to proudly celebrate the many things that make up who I am as an individual. It is a truly liberating — and fabulous — experience.”

Morgan Carpenter, President, OII Australia:

“This is the first year that any intersex-led organisation is joining the parade. Two of us are coming along, all at once, with a bus. OII Australia and AISSGA are part of the big Trans, Intersex and Queer float. 2013 was great for us, with “intersex status” in anti-discrimination legislation, and a Senate committee report on involuntary sterilisation.

Intersex kids are often still subjected to contentious surgeries to “normalise” our gender. The parade will give intersex men, women and others a chance to show we exist, that we grow up to be adults and we can live happy, fulfilling lives. Personally, I’ve photographed the parade many times, but this feels like a whole new level of community participation and visibility.”

Anthony Smith, President Bootco, Leather, Denim and Uniform club:

“Mardi Gras has always seen the strength of our Leather Brothers and Sisters celebrating the love of their lifestyle and this tradition continues today. Sydney Mardi Gras is the celebration of diversity of those that make up the community across genders, ages and races — we are all in this wonderful mix together.”

Sally Goldner, Executive Director, Transgender Victoria:

“I honour the spirit of 78 as I wish all those marching in Mardi Gras an awesome evening. The detail of the message may have changed and broadened in 36 years — the basic message is the same. It’s about the rights of people of all gender identities, all sexual orientations and all sexes including those experiencing intersex to a fair go. It’s about the rights to be alive, healthy, happy and have the same chance at achieving human potential.

Mardi Gras and similar events give us all a chance to communicate about those rights and at the same time have fun doing it — often with glamour, too. So, simply: enjoy, stay safe and have a great time.”

Andrew Purchas, President, Bingham Cup and Sydney Convicts founder:

“The Mardi Gras festival provides an opportunity for the entire LGBTI community to come together and celebrate.  It is not only about parties and the parade.  There are theatrical, cinema and musical shows, art exhibitions, sport and youth festivals and fantastic parties and a wonderful parade. It allows us to show our diversity and celebrate who we are.

I am really pleased that Mardi Gras has made a concerted and successful move to reengage with the community and provide a wide range of activities.  Despite significant progress in the last decade;  discrimination and prejudice both covert or overt, is rife. Mardi Gras demonstrates that sexuality does not determine what we can and cannot do.”

Clover Moore, City of Sydney Lord Mayor:

“Taking part in Mardi Gras is one of the highlights of my year.

I have many great memories of Mardi Gras – perching on an awning above Oxford St as a Parade judge, opening the festival in my first year as an MP, and actually marching in the Parade for the first time – the first Member of the Legislative Assembly to do so.

It’s a time to celebrate with gay and lesbian friends, and it’s great to feel part of something that tells the world Sydney is an welcoming, safe, LGBTI-supportive city.

I am proud of my association with Mardi Gras over the past three decades and I look forward to joining in the 2014 Mardi Gras Parade.”


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