Saturday, March 5, 2011

A proud salute to the 78'ers!

In 1978 sex between men was illegal. Discrimination was rife and gay men and women could not be ‘out’ for fear of it hurting their careers, their families and friends. There was always the threat of violence if you were openly homosexual.

And this is in Sydney! The most progressive city in Australia. And ’78 isn’t really that long ago, it’s in my lifetime.

In 1978, to celebrate International Gay Solidarity Week and the anniversary of the famous Stonewall riots in NYC, a daytime demonstration was organised for Oxford St followed by a political meeting at Paddington Town Hall. These events were attended by approx 400 gay men and women and it all went by without a hitch. A group of friends had organised a street party for that night, with Police approval, where men and woman could be happy about their differences and for one night forget about the oppressive laws they were being forced to live under.

They gave the party a Mardi Gras theme so that people could dress up if they wanted to hide their identity. That says so much about the politics of the time. The group met at 10pm and began their slow march down Oxford St calling on the patrons of the many clubs to join them in celebration. Numbers grew to about 1000 and the party was gaining momentum. They went with the feeling and emotion of the night and continued past the planned route.

This was when the police attacked!

Attack is a strong word but there is no other way to describe it. A riot erupted. With completely unnecessary force the Police terrorized the crowd and brutally arrested 53 of them, 23 women and 30 men. The bloodied and injured detainess were dumped at Darlinghurst Police Station. But there was still a lot of fight left in the marchers that night, they gathered to support and bailout those arrested with some handing over their savings to strangers as way of helping.

The Premier at the time, Neville Wran, never acknowledged the Police brutality but instead described the injuries as ‘unfortunate’ and said the participants had been given ‘a pretty good go’. The gay community continued to apply pressure in the follow-up until eventually all charges were dropped. But from that night a community spirit was cemented that still lives with us today – Mardi Gras!
Protesters camped outside Wran's home for weeks to change the law
The 78’ers, as they became known, still hold a very special place in the gay community. It was through their resilience and determination that gay men and women can now live so openly and accepted in Sydney. Mardi Gras has grown from the street party that night in June ‘78 into an event, parade, party, arts festival and month long celebration of pride and diversity known the world over.

In ’79 there were about 5,000 people at the much more organised parade and party. By ’84 it was up to 8,000 and this was the year that homosexuality was FINALLY decriminalised. In ’89 15,000 tickets were sold to the party, 20,000 in ’97 (I was one of them, my first MG!). At its peak Mardi Gras had over 100,000 people descend on Oxford St for the Parade and it was broadcast on commercial television, Ten, to well over a million people.
The 78'ers lead the 2008 Parade
For most Australians Mardi Gras conjures images of toned torso’s, drag queens, glitter, feathers and OTT parade costumes. For me the two real stars of the parade are the Police and PFlag. From its violent beginnings to now having the Police march as a show of support means so much. PFlag is a support group for parents and friends of lesbians and gays. Parents and grandparents march with PFlag and it gets me every time, I always shed a tear when PFlag proudly march by in the Parade. I think these two groups say everything about Mardi Gras.

The lesbian and gay community has come so far since the ground-breaking 78’ers. The wider acceptance of homosexuality has profoundly advanced in the last 33 years. In all but one respect we have total equality, and that’s the last big fight we have. Yes, legalising Gay Marriage is the final hurdle in our government 100% recognising we are equal citizens. This is not a matter for the church to decide, it is for our Government to determine that in the eyes of the law our relationships are of equal value and recognition as the straight community.

To think that until  as recently as ’84 my relationships were illegal astounds me. That in 2011 my relationships still don’t have equality breaks my heart. Why is it that my brother can have a union with his partner – completely endorsed and recognised by our Government - but I can’t? There is such acceptance of the gay community now that sometimes I sense and feel that even gays have lost interest in moving our cause forward.

This is when we must remember and draw inspiration from the 78’ers. If they hadn’t been so brave I wouldn’t be able to live so freely and openly as a gay man. Today the gay community must rally and take action so that the next generation does not know what it feels like to not have their love recognised.

Mardi Gras is a celebration! But lets not lose sight of the fight we still have on our hands. 

NEWS: I stumbled across a brilliant blog yesterday that is a beautiful representation of gay relationships and the argument to legalise gay marriage. Please check it out here. @_cooperman is the genius behind it.


Sarah Lang said...

You just made me cry! And gave me a happy. Thank you. And yes, marriage equality IS so much more. I want to be able to shout from the highest rooftops when I find the right girl, be able to declare in front of my family, my friends, my colleagues, my community, that I want to be with her for the rest of my life. My parents just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. A feat that I will, sadly, never be able to achieve. I've dreamed of being a "beautiful bride", ever since I was a tiny girl. I am now considered "middle aged", at 42, my time to be a young bride has passed. I feel like a part of who I am, who I should have been, and part of my inherent culture has been denied to me.
I don't wish this on anyone - especially my nieces and nephews. I want them to be able to fulfil ALL of their dreams, regardless of whether the love of their life is same or opposite sex, transgender, same or different race, religion or faith.
I am ever hopeful that one day, I will love again. And be able to marry. But I will never be a young blushing bride. And whilst I'll be proud, I fear that the stigma may never quite lift for me.
So I now yearn for a society where gay marriage is not only legal, but completely normal and accepted. Children grow up watching romantic movies showing gay couples & gay marriage, that love scenes between same sex lovers are considered romantic and aspirational, not controversial.
A society where a 42 year old lesbian no longer mourns that her childhood fantasy could never be realised due to politics rather than lack of love.
A society where we can focus our energies on our community, our contributions to our society, our life, our family & friends and not be fighting for our right to equally participate.
Happy Mardi Gras. And thank you for such a wonderful piece reminding us of the true meaning xxx

Mumstrosity said...

One thing that I don't get is why the government now allows recognition of same sex partners for centrelink purposes, but won't let them Marry?

They are happy to count your incomes as a couple so they don't have to pay you as much, but they won't allow marriage!

And why should one church decided the lives of the whole country, there are other religions in this country and you don't see THEM getting ruled over by the catholics.

I hope I get to see the day when equal marriage rights are given, and I hope it's sooner rather than later.

Lauren Finn said...

With a lump in my throat I hold hope in my heart that equal rights will be the right of ALL soon. Happy Mardi Gras, love and light. Lx

PinkPatentMaryJanes said...

Bravo. Bravo x

Anonymous said...

Wow, very inspiring. Carmela xo

Lucy said...

Brilliant post. I have goosebumps.

Adam Kotch said...

Smashed it out of the park with this one Steve! Beautiful ! xx

Donna said...

What an amazing, emotional and educational journey you have taken us on with that blog post! I'm shocked that I didnt know this information but while I'm happy we have made such progress there is much to be done as you say. I mean, love is love, no matter the gender of the two.

Mrs Woog said...

I did not know so much about the history of Mardi Gras St Murphy. Wonderful post. Party Hearty Everyone x

Jo said...

I've marched in the Mardi Gras for the last three years alongside my good friend who was too afraid to march by himself the first time and for the other years to show my support. I didn't know this story until I read your post. Thank you so much for sharing. It just made Mardi Gras a whole lot more meaningful and special for me.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...