On 24 Junea small group of gay and lesbian people operating as the Gay Solidarity Group staged a day of events in Sydney. The intention was to promote gay and lesbian culture and to encourage political activism against the discrimination they routinely experienced. The group organised a traditional march and public meeting in the morning and a street parade at night.
It all began on a chilly winter's night inwhen the police descended on a street festival bravely celebrating gay rights when homosexuality was still illegal. Sydney's newly-formed Gay Solidarity Group developed a day of events culminating in the first Mardi Gras street festival. They intended to raise local issues such as decriminalisation of homosexuality, mark the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York, protest the Australian visit of homophobic Festival of Light campaigner Mary Whitehouse, and promote the forthcoming 4th National Homosexual Conference.
The world class festival and organisation has come a long way since its protest beginnings in However, despite its growth in recent years, members of the local community have often debated whether or not the 'Gay and Lesbian' is still necessary and reflective of the annual event's inclusive values. However, a change isn't that simple, with the organisation needing to win the support of its vocal and committed membership base, a motion that has failed in the past.
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It was a [media] parade of 15, people through the streets of Sydney on a warm Saturday night in late February. There were 52 floats, numerous cars and trucks, sundry other vehicles, and vaqueros on horseback, and, as one watcher noted. Others were wearing just enough 'to keep them out of the Darlinghurst slammer on indecent exposure charges'.
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Hack understands the attacks followed a similar pattern - the men were all pushed over and kicked repeatedly, near where the parade was due to be held, in the early hours of Saturday morning. It hasn't surprised LGBTI groups who say it's common for hate crimes to occur during events like Mardi Gras, although many are unaware of their frequency. Nicholas Bucknell, 29, told Hack he wasn't able to march in the Mardi Gras, after being bashed in Sydney's Surry Hills, near the parade's location.
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The night had gone from nerve-wracking to exhilarating to traumatic all in the space of a few hours. The police attack made us more determined to run Mardi Gras the next year. Over the months that followed, more protests and arrests took place - and the actions of the authorities came to be seen as heavy handed. As such that first Mardi Gras march was a major civil rights milestone beyond the gay community.