Pride in protest: Hundreds march against homophobia and commodification of queer culture
Accompanied by portable DJ decks pumping out better tunes than can be found in any straight bar, this was a lively group of chanting, laughing, with people coming to watch from their balconies – a general comradery to fight for a better future.
The history of Fair Day was at the forefront of my mind when I arrived: a planned street festival of 500 people in 1978 calling for an end to discrimination faced by homosexuals in housing, work, violence from the police, and in homophobic laws. That festival has grown into one of the largest events in Sydney, and largest queer celebrations in the world – the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Fair Day is the official start of the Mardi Gras season. Hosted annually in Victoria Park right next to the University, it is an insanely large and crowded market day with plenty of queer music, food, people, and fashion. Local organisations and major corporations stand side-by-side in apparent harmony; we all love queer people and their culture — rainbows and drag queens are so fun!
Nearby though, at the intersection of Eastern Avenue and City Road, a crowd of around 300 had gathered, blocking traffic towards the city. The Mardi Gras Street Rally, organised by Pride in Protest and the SRC’s Queer Action Collective, “continue[s] Mardi Gras’ important history of resistance during World Pride.”
The part of Mardi Gras history I didn’t mention earlier is the police involvement at the 1978 protest. Originally, the protest was permitted, but when the number of people grew past 2000, it was revoked and the police were told to break up the parade. 53 people were arrested that night, with the Sydney Morning Herald publicly naming and outing each of them. Because homosexuality was criminalised at the time, many of those people lost their jobs, were kicked out of their accommodation, and worse.
The rally started off at the newly- renamed Pride Square outside Newtown Town Hall where, alongside the Big Thick Energy, there was a shared Welcome to Country by Auntie Rhonda Dixon- Grovenor, Gadigal Elder and daughter of Aboriginal civil rights leader Charles “Chicka” Dixon.
Protestors heard from Mark Gillespie, who marched in the protest in 1978. He reflected on how this is the first time WorldPride has been held outside of Europe or North America, and on the history that queer people have. “We have to name our names; we have our people in our history.” He argued that with all the people that are coming to Sydney, we should be showing them the proud tradition of fighting for our rights in this city, and use this time to spotlight our problems and our issues.
He also spoke to some of the incredibly difficult parts of his life, where three main sources of oppression were put upon him: the law, medicine, and religion. “You just don’t know how much we had to hide who we were,” he said, and referenced the fear he still experiences when he sees a police uniform — “in the eyes of the law, I was the lowest of the low.”
Ethan Lyons, a Wiradjuri student and activist, demanded for intersectional answers to the climate, and for young people to be inspired by the change that “happened on the streets by our queer and Blaq Elders.”
With the first half of speeches over, the brightly coloured mass walked the kilometre-or-so to campus. Accompanied by portable DJ decks pumping out better tunes than can be found in any straight bar, this was a lively group of chanting, laughing, with people coming to watch from their balconies – a general comradery to fight for a better future. Danny Lim, supported by his new cane after recent severe head injuries he received from a police attack in the Queen Victoria Building, joined protestors.
Sophie Cotton, an advocate for trans rights and NTEU represetative, told me of her trans black friend who was bashed in a toilet by police recently. “They hurt people, they brutalise people, and they make them feel super unsafe — they’re a direct threat to queer, trans, and POC existence.”
Following speeches, the protestors entered Fair Day. By this stage, the number of police in attendance had seemingly tripled, with officers now on bikes, on horses, and on foot.
There is an incredibly high number of people who are disabled and queer, and it was great to see accessibility for them put at the centre of both events. AUSLAN interpreters were present at major speeches, and the speed of walking meant everyone could join.
There were a lot of great groups and resources at Fair Day: on-site monkeypox vaccine, Dykes on Bikes, free condoms – it just felt like a super chill community vibe.