• via Instagram @casey_conway (Instagram)Source: Instagram
Casey Conway reflects on his first time attending Mardi Gras, and looks to the fight for equality that still lies ahead.
Casey Conway

3 Mar 2017 - 6:59 PM  UPDATED 3 Mar 2017 - 6:59 PM

As a young lad growing up in the bush, coverage of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras beamed across the family TV. It caught the attention of my whole family, all for the same reason, except for one. Me. I was intrigued. I was in shock for a different reason, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to be there. This was the beginning of the struggle I would have in facing my sexuality. The beginning of the shame and my dark secret I would carry through the next decade of my life. 

I had no gay role models that I could look up to during this time. I was a very athletic kid growing up and had many idols that inspired me through sport. I had posters of indigenous footy players on my bedroom wall—Mal Meninga, Steve Renouf and Wendall Sailor to name a few. I wanted to be like them, but I knew I was very different from them—I was gay. I had no one I could identify with, and the shame grew as the years past. 

28 photos of couples celebrating pride all over the world
With today being Valentine's Day and Sydney's Mardi Gras just around the corner, we thought we'd take a look at pride and love all over the world.

Years later, after moving to Sydney to play footy and coming out, I went to the parade as a spectator. Although at this point I’d accepted my sexuality and was a part of the gay scene, I still didn’t have the pride of the many colourful marchers I watched strut past. In a way, I envied them. 

This year's Mardi Gras parade will be very different for me. I won’t be the little kid watching wide eyed on the TV, nor will I be the jealous 20-year-old watching from the sidelines. I’ll be marching as a proud gay man with my head held high for the world to see.

It's going to be a glitzy, showy affair, but underpinning all this is the acknowledgement and understanding of the struggle that has affected not only everyone marching, but the pioneers before us that allow us to reconcile the shame and radiate the pride.

Casey Conway: Coming out isn't just hard the first time we do it
"For some reason I sometimes struggle to say the words I’ve said so many times before." Youth worker and former rugby league player Casey Conway reflects on coming out, not just the first time, but the 100th, 200th and 300th time as well.

The push for equality is gaining momentum, pushing boundaries and unsettling the status quo, but it's a fight that will never really end—even when we do achieve marriage equality.

Marriage equality is only one facet of equality, one that sees use lag behind much of the world with the US, Ireland, UK, Canada and our mates in New Zealand, among many others, embracing same sex marriage.

The fight continues, and changing hearts and minds will take more than a parade. Still, Mardi Gras is a symbol of strength and unity that says we aren’t going away, and will only get louder and stronger. From the Gay Solidarity Group marching in 1978 to this event that's celebrated internationally and brings $30 million into the local economy, there has been a great shift in people's thinking. The process of change is slow and the process of acceptance is slow, but change is afoot.

Mardi Gras: Taking up space and finding your community
"These events have the ability to connect people with a like-minded community that could potentially save our lives. They help embolden the queer community to be a powerful force to be reckoned with. They help us find our voice, find our friends and find ourselves," writes Dani Leever.

It feels like the groundswell for Equality is undeniable, with more open dialogue than ever before. Mardi Gras proves that when people band together and take a stand in solidarity, change can occur. With all that's going on in the world and the many injustices, it’s important to hold on, to know that we do have power and we do have a voice.

Happy Mardi Gras everyone. Party hard, be safe and embrace your pride.