Mardi Gras Parade 2011

Swedish flag in Sydney Mardi Gras
Swedish flag in Sydney Mardi Gras

If you were to identify a “glory time” for Mardi Gras, in terms of crowds, you would have to say it was the 1990s. Every year, it seemed, there were claims of “record crowds”. Every year, it seemed, the number of parade participants increased, and so did the number of people watching.

The parade route has changed somewhat over the years due to the proliferation of grandstand viewing along Flinders Street, in particular. With so many viewing areas cordoned off, it’s been hard to know whether crowds were up or down or whatever. My gut feeling, shared with many, is that Mardi Gras hasn’t been a crowd puller for a number of years.

But tonight was certainly different. The size of the crowd reminded me of the 90s and that so called “glory time”

The usual Mardi Gras crowd “bottle necks” (around Taylor Square, for example) were near impassable. Although I suspect with some effort I could have made it through the crowds at Taylor Square at around nine o’clock, I no longer have the enthusiasm for crowds I once had and so avoided it completely.

A favourite from Stockholm Pride in 2008 - marching for those who cant
A favourite from Stockholm Pride in 2008 - marching for those who cant

“If I move a little further along”, I thought to myself, “‘l’ll eventually find a spot to stand where I can see through the crowd”. That spot turned out to be near the parade’s end at Moore Park, where I was able to see the parade reasonably close up and in relative comfort. I stayed for maybe an hour and enjoyed what I saw.

Thematically, there was a lot of “Marriage Equality” this year. I wonder if this has become a reason for interest this year. I don’t mean from the perspective of the crowd, but from the perspective of those participating. I suspect for a while there has been a feeling in the community there was “nothing left to fight for”. It’s not a view I share, but I think it’s one that prevailed for a while. And in the broader community there was, perhaps, a feeling that Mardi Gras was a little passé. Again, it’s not a view I share.

Even with “Marriage Equality” there’s still a lot before there’s genuine equality. The ban on marriage would end the systemic government-sanctioned discrimination, for sure. But it still doesn’t mean attitudes and other forms of discrimination will end. I suspect teens will continue to struggle with their sexuality and “coming out” for years to come. And in many parts of the world, you can still end up in gaol or murdered for being gay or lesbian. Mardi Gras still has a lot of relevance, and it was great to see such crowds out on Oxford Street, even if I don’t like crowds much.

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