• The 1978 Mardi Gras protest march. (Mardi Gras)
For the trans and gender diverse people who were present in 1978 and marched over the following years, their pride in identity isn't reflected - and never has been - in the same way as Gay and Lesbian Australians.
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

9 Apr 2019 - 12:14 PM  UPDATED 9 Apr 2019 - 12:34 PM

COMMENT

On the first weekend of April, 2019, members of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras met to discuss a potential name change for the organisation.

The meeting, not the first on the matter, was sparked by years of speculation that 'Gay and Lesbian' wasn't inclusive of trans and gender diverse people, who form an integral part of the LGBTIQ+ community and have done since well before the first Mardi Gras protest in 1978.

While a thirst for progress should be innate for LGBTIQ+ Australians, the subject of a name change remains a divisive one, with some older members of the community resistant to the prospect, perhaps fearful that a change could erase the hard-fought battle for visibility and pride in identity undertaken by 78ers.

However, if there's one constant in the LGBTIQ+ community, and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in particular, it's change. The festival itself has undergone more than one name change in the past. The word 'Lesbian' wasn't included for more than a decade after Mardi Gras began, first appearing on the parade poster in 1990.

The close connection between members of the Australian LGBTIQ+ community and its history is understandable and important. For those who took to the streets in 1978 and came up against police brutality and public 'outings' by nationwide newspapers, the 'Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras' represents more than just a name. It's a marker of how far we've come as a community - a reminder of the violent history from which our national celebration was born.

Yet, for the trans and gender diverse people who were present in 1978 and marched over the following years, their pride in identity isn't reflected - and never has been - in the same way.

As Mark Gillespie, a 1978 marcher, wrote for the University of Sydney in 2016: "The early rainbow nature of the movement was evident, with transgender and Aboriginal people and people from migrant backgrounds all mixing in."

He added: "We were a diverse and spirited group of a few hundred mostly younger men and women ready to march down Oxford Street to Hyde Park, along a strip that was becoming the centre of gay life in the city. The atmosphere was more one of celebration than protest. Little did we know then that, by the end of the night, many of us would be traumatised and our lives changed forever."

"The early rainbow nature of the movement was evident, with transgender and Aboriginal people and people from migrant backgrounds all mixing in."

Trans people, including those of colour, were there from the very beginning - not only that, but they threw the first bricks at the Stonewall riots nine years earlier, one of the catalysts for the first Mardi Gras protest in 1978.

Overseas, LGBTIQ+ festivals are presented as wholly inclusive events, nonspecific in their Pride-ness. New York Pride, London Pride - there are literally hundreds of Pride parades all across the world, very few of which have retained the Gay-specific origins of their names.

In my opinion, a big part of this is because we can no longer, in good conscience, separate the 'G' and the 'L' from the 'BTIQ+' - particularly when many trans, gender diverse and intersex people continue to face levels of discrimination akin to those marched against in 1978. Furthermore, bisexual Australians fight ongoing stigma and delegitimisation from within our own community, an issue that remains closely tied to the Gay-Lesbian binary perpetuated by Mardi Gras' current name.

Then there's the growing number of young people who identify as Queer, an inclusive and pragmatic umbrella term that cannot be dismissed, as many seem tempted to do, as flouncy new-age slang.

Our community is an expansive one - a fact we should be proud, not cautious of. While we should always work to educate young LGBTIQ+ people about the hard-fought battle for rights and recognition that came before us, the ongoing relevance and fruition of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras as an organisation, parade, and festival literally banks on the participation of new generations.

Our community is an expansive one - a fact we should be proud, not cautious of.

So, would removing 'Gay and Lesbian' and celebrating, quite simply, Sydney Mardi Gras really detract from the parade's history?

I, for one, fail to see how it could.

Instead, it would open up the festival, which prides itself on inclusion, to members of the LGBTIQ+ community who have been marching all along.

It would be an opening of arms, an acknowledgement of progress, and a step forward - something our community has never resisted in the past.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is yet to announce a date for the membership vote - but when they do, I hope members will consider those who are yet to march in their first parade, and what it might mean to make them feel welcome.

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