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Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras During COVID-19

The first Australian Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade I went to was when I was freshly eighteen, just after coming out ten years ago. I remember wearing heels, a leopard print shawl and a short dress because I wanted other lesbians to think I was hot, but I hadn’t been around any long enough to realize that, if anything, I was flagging myself as straight.

It wasn’t even my style, and it definitely isn’t now, but I wanted to get a smooch off a woman and only had the male gaze to go off. There was a massive “phew!” (after some embarrassment) when I realized I could wear what made me comfortable around lesbians and that was hot to them.

Dykes on Bikes, 2020 Mardi Gras, source: YouTube

Everything aligned. Born this Way by Lady Gaga was released a few weeks before Mardi Gras that year. I used to pump it out of my car stereo as I drove down my regional town’s CBD. Then I got to sing it in a crowd of 300,000 people, from around the world, who were also ‘born this way’. Even though the only attention I got for my leopard print shawl was from gay men who wanted to know where I got it from, I was home.

As I mixed a bit of absinthe I got for my 18th birthday (the legal age to drink alcohol in Australia) with some lemonade into an empty water bottle, and heard the revs coming from the Dykes on Bikes — who always open the Mardi Gras — I was rewarded for going through the terrifying ordeal of coming out as a lesbian. I loved (and still do) being a lesbian. Mardi Gras helped.

Like with many things during COVID-19, Mardi Gras changes this year.

Goodbye Oxford Street

Instead of us being jam-packed like sardines in a tin on the gayest street, beloved Oxford Street, Mardi Gras will be held at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on the 6th of March, 2021. Luckily, it will be broadcasted live on SBS, and will surely be uploaded to YouTube like it has been other years, because the Mardi Gras website said the sale of tickets have been put on pause:

“As government recommendations continue to evolve, we are temporarily pausing new ticket sales to the 2021 Mardi Gras Parade at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Additional details will be provided soon.”

Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), source: YouTube.

The Mardi Gras site explains why they picked the SCG:

“Not only is the SCG close to the Parade’s spiritual home of Oxford Street, but under the current health orders, it is also one of the safest venues for us to stage the event and meet requirements of Physical Distancing and Contact Tracing, two significant COVID Safe operational requirements of NSW Health.”

The site reassures us that the Mardi Gras will be back on Oxford Street post-COVID:

“The Parade has only moved to the SCG due to current health guidelines that are a result of the global pandemic. We look forward to the day when hundreds of thousands people can gather on Oxford Street once more, but COVID-19 has changed the way we do things in all aspects of our lives and the Parade is not exempt from this. We feel incredibly lucky to be able to give the community the opportunity to share their pride with the world, especially during this new world we’re all living in.”

What if you live in Australia but can’t afford a ticket? Mardi Gras has got you covered (if the tickets go back on sale) with the ‘Hardship Ballot’:

“Although there is a small price for general admission tickets to help cover the costs of operating a COVID-Safe event, Mardi Gras wants to make the Parade as accessible as possible, especially for those who have been adversely affected by the ongoing pandemic. With this in mind, 2,000 free tickets have been set aside for those in the community who are feeling the financial impact of COVID-19…The Hardship Ballot has been set up to support those in our community who are experiencing financial strain and cannot afford a ticket to Parade…If your application is successful you will receive TWO complimentary tickets for you and a friend to attend and watch the Parade live from the Sydney Cricket Ground.”

Pride and Protection

I’m unsure how many people have already bought tickets for the parade so far, but many of us will miss out. Mardi Gras probably won’t feel like Mardi Gras without the close proximity of the audience. The audience are just as flamboyant and eye-catching as the parade itself.

Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is an immersive, enchanting, profoundly emotional experience. It’s the epitome of the word “pride.” The energy is indescribable. There is no question why it’s not just on the Australian people’s calendars, but on people’s from around the world. Jot it down on your bucket list right this second!

It’s true that Mardi Gras won’t be the same this year but, we must remember that immunocompromised people, including the aging members on the First Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras float — who make me cry with pride — are our main priority when taking it to the SCG. The event of COVID-19 means that we must take care of vulnerable lesbian and gay people like never before. I’ll leave with some pictures to remind you why the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has to be different this year:

It was this man’s “42nd Mardi Gras” in 2020, quoted/sourced: YouTube
People with disabilities’ section of Mardi Gras, source: YouTube
‘The First Mardi Gras 78’’ section of the parade, on a bus. Source: YouTube.
Homeless section of Mardi Gras, source: YouYube
‘The First Mardi Gras 78’’ section of the parade, on foot. Source: YouTube

AJ Kelly

Contact AJ at [email protected] or view the rest of her work on aj-kelly.tumblr.com

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