On why Mardi Gras is a poignant reminder of the struggle toward making sexuality and gender diversity an important topic for public discourse.
By
Jay Carmichael

27 Mar 2017 - 2:43 PM  UPDATED 27 Mar 2017 - 2:43 PM

Let’s start out on a sour note, if only to prove a point: at this year’s Mardi Gras, a gay journalist had homophobic abuse hurled at him during the parade.

This (hopefully isolated) incident does at least one thing, and that is to play into the historic pressure of the past for expressions of sexuality to be kept in private spaces. Censorship of sexuality from public spaces isn’t about the sexual act, but about the expression of a sexual orientation in a public place – a hug and a kiss on the train, street art, music aired on the radio.

Pushing different sexualities back into the closet has been on the agenda for some time, such as when the BBC banned Frankie goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, through to our persistent and casual use of euphemisms to describe not only sexual acts but sexuality. While for some, the recent Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras can reignite conservative perceptions that sexuality be kept in private spaces, for others it’s testament to why we need to challenge such perceptions.

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While the title ‘Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’ might not fully encompass our community’s spectrum, the parade itself does. And it’s that parade of diversity that’s a poignant reminder of why we struggle toward making sexual and gender diversity an important topic of public discourse.

Sexuality and sex may be censored in different parts of the world for a number of reasons – religion, conservative values, and in some cases, closely linked to the for-the-sake-of-the-children argument. In more than 70 countries in the world, same-sex sexual contact of any kind is illegal and sometimes still punishable by jail or death.

While such laws may have their roots in colonialism, and are discriminatory in nature, they are laws nonetheless (of course). And it’s not as if the rest of the world has free reign when it comes to sex and sexuality. Laws all across the world try to regulate sexuality in a number of ways, and this generally includes:

  • Recognising and stopping discrimination
  • Criminalising/decriminalising a sexual behaviour
  • Allowing a person to make decisions about their own sexual behaviour
  • Regulation of marriages, families, and/or registered partnerships.

This matters not only for making the laws, but also for pointing out when the laws fail us. In more recent times an argument could be made that marriage inequality in Australia is only benefiting the erasure of sexually diverse relationships from public spaces. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that in part the same laws that seek to stop discrimination can also support it, which is the case in Australia with marriage only being recognised as between one man and one woman. While there’s little evidence on whether children who only ever see men marrying women become biased to think a same-sex pairing is wrong, it would be interesting to see if older perceptions of ‘legitimate’ couplings change when marriage equality is reached.

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It’s becoming increasingly common for young people, in some cases, to have the biggest effect on how the world talks and thinks about not only sexuality but also gender. For example, in 2013 Insight covered a story about the increasing number of young people presenting as transgender and what their lives are like, and more recently Louis Theroux released a documentary about trans kids in America. These kinds of challenges to the status quo – and the over-hype and sensationalism often surrounding them – show us about how our society thinks about sexuality, and gender for that matter. They often cause a storm of public controversy, particularly so when in 2015/16 Liberal conservatives blew up about the Safe Schools Coalition.

These controversies are proof that we still need these acts of political statement, that we still need to march on Oxford Street every year. For while we continue to police sexuality, we’ll continue to see the negative effects of sweep such matters so close to our identities under the carpet.

So whether you want to see them as intentional acts or not, a journalist attending Mardi Gras, the pride parade itself and young trans kids celebrating their diversity are all just as much political statements as were the first pride marches that happened in Australian during the 1970s.