Australia ready to host Mardi Gras parade at Oxford Street

Michael Gardiner first understood that he shouldn’t be ashamed of his sexuality while marching in the Mardi Gras parade in 2004 with his then-wife, who was dressed as a matching fluffy bunny. A few days earlier, he had told Theresa Leggett, his wife, that he was gay.

I was terrified of what being gay meant. I reached a point where I considered taking my own life, but Theresa wouldn’t have any of that,” he claims.

She led me up Oxford Street to the applause of the crowds of onlookers cheering her on, saying, in essence, “This is family; how can you not want to be in it.”

The 45th Mardi Gras parade, “Gather, Dream, Amplify,” will roll through Oxford and Flinders streets on Saturday, turning Sydney into an LGBTQ+ mecca for WorldPride.

The procession will follow this route for the first time in three years after moving to the Sydney Cricket Stadium in 2021 and 2022, owing to Covid-19 restrictions.

Albert Kruger, the head of Mardi Gras, predicted that the parade, featuring 12,500 participants and 208 floats and snakes from Hyde Park to Moore Park, will be the largest one yet.

Mardi Gras will use CCTV technology installed along the parade route to track mood of crowds to prepare for the volume of people.

To avoid overcrowding, Kruger explains, “we stop feeding people [into that area] and feed them into [an area] further up the street.” The main goal is to avoid crowding the area with too many people.

From a Balinese-themed float celebrating LGBTQ+ people from Indonesia will first float from Tamworth’s pride group, and also will honour the queer community in Australia with the theme of cowboys and cowgirls, the floats will represent every aspect of the LGBTQ+ community.

Kruger says he is most looking forward to the Mardi Gras float that will carry 14-year-old Logan, the youngest drag queen to ever march in the parade.

Nineteen years after their first march together, Gardiner and Leggett will ride on a float with a Mad Max theme.

The organization Free Gay and Happy, which Leggett founded the year after Gardiner came out to foster mental health and community ties for LGBTQ+ persons, entered the parade with the float.

Almost 1,500 people are now a part of the club, which initially just had a few buddies.
When we reflect on the first march, Gardiner adds, “the joy we feel now is realizing how far we’ve gone. And the fantastic sensation of witnessing others march for the first time and the significance of that moment for them.

Kate Rowe, 72, one of the activists who proudly went by the name of the “78ers” and entered Oxford Street for the first Mardi Gras parade in 1978, will march in the parade. She was one of 23 women detained by police for participating in a march.

When people attacked us for marching, she says, “I was 27 and had just started to get politicized. It was a shock.” “I was beaten and put in a cell. I then had my name listed in the newspaper as one of the marchers, which nearly cost me my job. Yet, there was a sense of community and enthusiasm that we refused to let go of, and it’s thanks to that we are where we are now.

For the past 45 years, Rowe has observed the Mardi Gras procession change. It’s similar to having a child in that once something is born, you have to see it grow into the person it needs to be, as she puts it.

The political message is still present; it is just delivered differently now.

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