'It's something to be proud of': Rain couldn't dampen Mardi Gras revellers' spirit

Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras




Grey skies and an early downpour were never going to rain on this parade.

For the fourth year running, inclement weather has overshadowed the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras but a few showers haven’t kept more than 10,000 marchers and hundreds of thousands of spectators away.

It was a long drive from Wagga Wagga for Steven Menz but one he has done for the past 26 years for the same reason as most who marched on Saturday night: celebration and acceptance.

The 45-year old nurse and drag queen stands out in the rural centre but on Mardi Gras night, Marlena Stool’s purple-stained hair and aging pink gown will blend in to the sea of colour and glitter surging down Oxford Street.

“You get to be whoever you want to be,” he said.

Gay marriage and AIDS awareness have dominated previous years of a parade that has never shied away from making political statements.

This year, organisers hoped to capture the world’s attention with several floats featuring the Russian president Vladimir Putin, who recently passed laws making it illegal to give information about homosexuality to minors.

Two trucks are carrying banners of the Russian leader wearing drag makeup and another features dancers in the red, white and blue of the country’s flag.

“We are saying to him that [homophobic laws] are not acceptable and we are saying it because people in Russia aren’t allowed to,” said the organiser of one float, Mark, who declined to give his surname.

He was “certain” that the parade’s heavy anti-Putin focus would make news in eastern Europe but he feared it would not change the situation.

An Amnesty International float has portrayed the Russian leader as a giant menacing puppet.

“It’s not all about marriage, there are so many other important issues going on,” said Amnesty float leader Ben Hanson. “It’s very tough when you see a county that had equal rights start to decline.”

The record-breaking 144 floats have also included a parody of the Abbott government’s border protection policy - Operation Border Insecurity - with placards reading “stop the floats”.

Federal Labor politician Penny Wong, the parliament’s first lesbian member, will front the Rainbow Labor float alongside MPs Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese.

Singer Delta Goodrem and entertainer Courtney Act are also expected to march while Baz Luhrmann, who designed the parade’s final Strictly Ballroom-themed float, and newly-single The Voice star Ricky Martin will watch the 36th annual parade from the stands.

Tina Arena will headline the after-party.

Spectators began lining Oxford Street from 11am, undeterred by the four millimeters of rain that fell in Sydney before 5pm.

Sixty-one year-old disability pensioner Gail Haines left Wollongong at dawn for her 15th consecutive parade, bringing with her a rainbow glitter hat and her 42 year-old neighbour Leigh Schwenke, who was watching her first Mardi Gras.

“I have a son who’s gay and I have an absolute ball coming every year,” Ms Haines said.

“I get a spot right at the front and look at all the spectacular outfits and just get out and enjoy life.”

Crowds were expected to be slightly dampened due to the weather but nobody told the long line of revellers donning pink g-strings and sequined underwear that it wasn’t quite bikini weather.

“The last sunny Mardi Gras I can remember was 2010 but I think the rain is more fun,” said Daniel Gratta, 34, who wore a blue and red “mankini”.

“Everyone gets really messy and just goes wild.”

Monica Serci, a 26-year-old lawyer and member of lesbian group Girlthing, said young Australians still needed a reminder that being gay was okay.

“I still find myself, when I’m in my professional environment or just out and about, having moments when I’m reserved about who I am,” she said.

“But coming to Mardi Gras is that yearly reminder that it’s totally nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud of.”

Police have launched a high-visibility operation and said before the event that they had worked better with organisers to avoid a repeat of last year’s brutality allegations.

Teenager Jamie Jackson Reed was filmed being arrested and slammed to the ground by a police officer in an incident that went viral and stole headlines after the parade.

“Despite that incident last year, I personally feel no fear,” Ms Serci said.

This story 'It's something to be proud of': Rain couldn't dampen Mardi Gras revellers' spirit first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.