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What's so special about Australia's Mardi Gras?

40th annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade in Sydney, Saturday, March 3, 2018.

The annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade is the centerpiece of the entire Mardi Gras festival.And today parade is expected to be watched by hundreds of thousands of people, all around Australia.

What is Mardi Gras? And why is it significant?

"Mardi Gras" comes from the French for “Fat Tuesday” — traditionally the last opportunity to eat rich food before the Christian fasting period of Lent begins.

It is linked to ancient pagan celebrations of spring and fertility that were absorbed and modified to fit Christian theology.

There are Mardi Gras festivals all around the world, with probably the most famous being in Rio-de-Janeiro, in Brazil, and in New Orleans, in the United States.

But in Sydney it has changed its nature again, becoming a global celebration of LGBTIQ plus culture, and an iconic movement for social justice.

It started in a period of social upheaval in Australia.

On June the 24th, 1978, a street protest in Sydney - intended as a peaceful march to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots for gay rights in New York City - ended in brutality.

"Seventy five demonstrators have been arrested in the latest clash between police and gay liberation protesters in Sydney..."

Dozens were arrested, some with significant force, while others involved were publicly shamed for their involvement.

More protests and arrests took place in the months following, eventually leading to the New South Wales government repealing the legislation allowing the arrests to be made.

Around 3,000 people marched in an incident-free parade the next year, and public interest and support has continued to rise ever since.

It's thought those initial protests, now 41 years ago, cemented Sydney's place as Australia's Mardi Gras capital.

Today, Sydney Mardi Gras brings thousands of visitors from around the world to Australia.

The New South Wales government estimates it injects around $38 million into the local economy.

 Kevin Markwell, a Professor in Tourism at Southern Cross University, says Sydney's parade is different to other L-G-B-T-I-Q+ pride marches around the world.

"It happens at night, whereas most of the American pride parades happen during the day. Because it's night, it becomes more flamboyant, more spectacular. The use of lighting and sound creates a much more spectacular and visually interesting parade than a lot of the daytime pride parades."

 Professor Markwell says the burgeoning popularity of the Sydney Mardi Gras has inspired others cities and regional areas to hold similar events.

 "The popularity, particularly of the parade, but also the festival that surrounds the parade, can all be used by other cities or regional areas to create their own particular kind of LGBT festivals. It’s interesting that in the last couple of years a few regional towns in NSW host their own Mardi Gras. They even call it a Mardi Gras, and that includes the parade and the after party after that."))

The theme of this year's Sydney Mardi Gras is "fearless".

In a video released on social media, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the theme aims to inspire members of the L-G-B-T-I-Q+ community to overcome discrimination.

"This year's Mardi Gras theme is 'fearless' and that reminds us that there is still more to be done. It draws attention to the audacious bravery of the LGBTIQ community. It encourages us to break down the barriers that still exist. Many LGBTIQ  people feel lonely and isolated and Mardi Gras gives you the opportunity to reach out for help, to be fearless."

SBS has broadcast Sydney Mardi Gras parade on television since 2014.

Prior to 2014, SBS broadcast a "Mardi Gras season" on its world movies channel on Foxtel celebrating L-G-B-T-I-Q+ films.

Melbourne based Indian Australian Shivesh Pandey works for India Australia collaboration on social issues.

He told SBS Hindi, “Historically, LGBTI plus people have a special place in Indian society.”

Hindu religion even has recognised them as religious leaders in one of its biggest religious gathering in Prayagraj Kumbh explained Mr Pandey.


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