9 LGBT History Facts You Should Know Before Mardi Gras, Just In Case There's A Pop Quiz

It's time to get schooled.

How good are you with LGBT+ history? What if a drag queen offers you $50 if you can name 5 important historical LGBT+ figures, but you can only think of RuPaul and Elton John?

Don’t stress, we got you, with some help from Twitter user @selfishfeminist.


Pride in the US is a little different to Mardi Gras in Australia, but both have their roots in the Stonewall riots of 1969. The riots were a response to a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York, and activists like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie became iconic figures in the LGBT rights movement as a result of their involvement in the events at Stonewall.


While the 78ers can be credited with establishing Mardi Gras in Australia, Brenda Howard was one of the organisers of the first Pride in New York, the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which commemorated the first anniversary of Stonewall.


South Australia was the first Australian state to decriminalise male homosexuality in 1975, and Tasmania was the last to do so, holding out until 1997.


Gilbert Baker created the first rainbow flag in 1978, and it was first debuted at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade.


Denmark became the first country to legally recognise relationships between gay couples in 1989, and in 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage. Australia, as pretty much everyone knows, didn’t do so until after a non-binding plebiscite was held in 2017. Twenty-six countries around the world have now legalised same-sex marriage.


In October 1973, the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry Federal Council became the first body in the world to declare that homosexuality was not an illness, and in December of that year, the American Psychiatric Association removed it from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


The first gay political group in Australia was the Australian offshoot of the US-based Daughters of Bilitis, which eventually became known as the Australasian Lesbian Movement.


Lilli Elbe is known as the first woman to undergo gender confirmation surgery in 1930 in Germany (Germany, particularly Berlin, before the Nazis rose to power was pretty progressive when it came to LGBT+ people). The movie The Danish Girl was made about her life, but many trans people had concerns with the film’s portrayal.


While @selfishfeminist suggests that drag is an acronym, standing for ‘Dressed Like A Girl’, there’s no legitimate source for this claim. Drag dates back centuries, so it’s likely we’ll never know the origins of the word. Some have suggested that it comes from theatre slang for long skirts dragging on the floor.

This means that yes, drag does pre-date RuPaul, although he can be credited with introducing it to the mainstream.

For more LGBT+ history, check out the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives. You can also listen to the podcast Making Gay History for interviews with important LGBT+ figures about the historical events they lived through and contributed to.

A Guide To Mardi Gras For First-Time Attendees, Participants, And Spectators

Here's everything you need to remember before a night you'll never forget.

If you’ve never attended Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras before, never fear: we’ve put together this handy guide to help you out, whether you’re participating in the parade, watching from the sidelines, heading to an after-party, or looking for other ways to get involved. Let’s crack on!

First things first, Mardi Gras in Australia is not the same as the Mardi Gras in New Orleans with the beads and public drunkenness, although our Mardi Gras tends to involve a bit of that too.

Mardi Gras dates back to 1978, when a group of protestors commemorated the 1969 Stonewall Riot in New York by organising a protest in the morning, and a street party/parade in the evening. Unfortunately, during the evening parade, marchers were targeted and assaulted by police, and 53 protestors were arrested, held without charge, and outed when their names were published in the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald. 

The protestors who marched in 1978 march in the parade every year, and are known as the ’78ers’.

Now that we’ve got that brief history lesson out of the way, it’s on to the survival guide!

Participating in the parade

If you want to participate in the parade, you’ll need to get in early. The kinds of floats found in the parade range from corporate floats to political floats to government floats to community organisation floats. So there are floats from companies like ANZ, Holden, Sydney Dance Company, SBS and AccorHotels alongside floats from ACON, Rainbow Families, the Greens, Fire & Rescue NSW, and several different sports teams.

If you’re already involved with an organisation that has a float, that makes things much easier. If not, some floats let members of the public sign up, or sell tickets to participate; Heaps Gay and GIRLTHING are two examples of floats you can buy tickets for a couple of months in advance, and groups like Bi+ Visibility often put calls out on Facebook for parade participants.

If you’re not that prepared, you might have to resign yourself to watching from the sidelines this year, and just remember to get in early for next year’s parade.

If you’re participating in the parade, I cannot stress this enough: wear comfortable shoes. They may not complete your outfit, but your feet will thank you after the walk down Oxford Street.

In addition, have water with you, but don’t drink too much, because once you’re locked inside the park before the parade, bathroom options are limited.

And my last piece of advice, because nobody told me about this and it was a surprise my first year: know how you’re getting home from the park at the end of the route. You finish inside a giant park and the nearest taxis and public transport options are a bit of a walk away, so figure something out in advance. And take a phone charger so you aren’t stuck in a giant park, alone, with a dead phone.

Watching the parade

Presumably, if you’re watching from home, you don’t need advice from me on that. Sit on the couch, turn on SBS, and enjoy. It’s pretty straightforward.

If you want to get a bit closer to the action, there are several locations along the parade route where you can make camp for the evening, including an accessible area that you need to register for.

Take something to sit on, as well as water and snacks, and be prepared to get there early and never leave, lest you lose your spot.

Or, if you’re happy to walk, a hot tip is to start at the end of the parade route and make your way towards Hyde Park. That way, you see everything, and aren’t stuck in one spot the whole night!

Attending an after party

When it comes to Mardi Gras after parties, you’re spoiled for choice. There’s the official Mardi Gras Party, with tickets selling for over $180, that features Pnau, Kim Petras, Jake Shears and Courtney Act.

For the more budget-conscious, there are heaps of other options. Heaps Gay and GIRLTHING are two popular choices, but they aren’t the only parties out there! Max Watt’s is having one, as is Klub Koori. In fact, most bars and pubs have things planned for Saturday night, but many of them require tickets, so get in early!

If partying isn’t your thing

If large, loud parties aren’t really your thing, I see you. And the people behind Mardi Gras do too, because there’s actually an entire festival program beyond the parade itself!

There are thought-provoking panels at Queer Thinking, lots of art exhibitions, a film festival, plays and performances, and even a Zoo Walk. Plus, there’s Fair Day, which includes musical performances, food trucks, over 200 stalls, and a dog pageant.

While a lot of these events take place throughout February, there’s still a bunch of events you can catch before the Mardi Gras Festival finishes on Sunday, so check out the program here.

However you choose to celebrate, I hope you have a fantastic time, because your first Mardi Gras is something you aren’t likely to forget any time soon.

While The Favourite Is A Win For LGBT Representation, Bohemian Rhapsody Feels Like Two Steps Back

There were wins and losses for the LGBT community at this year's Oscars.

In case you missed the most exciting news to come out of this year’s Academy Awards, Olivia Colman won Best Actress for her role as Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. 

The movie, written by Australian Tony McNamara with Deborah Davis, is a brilliant piece of cinema, and many LGBT film buffs (myself included) are thrilled with the win. Not least because of what would have happened if it had been shut out of the awards entirely.

While the fact that Glenn Close has to continue living her life without an Oscar is a terrible tragedy, Colman’s win is definitely deserved.

The Favourite has been cited as an example of LGBT representation in cinema done right, and that’s even when you consider the fact that the majority of the cast is straight.

Straight people portraying queer characters can be done, and done well, and two of this year’s Best Picture nominees can serve as case studies for how it can be done well, and how to do it in a way that fails spectacularly.

Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by Bryan Singer, who has faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct since the film’s release, has been repeatedly criticised for the way it handled the issue of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality.

Setting aside the fact that we don’t know whether Mercury identified as gay or bi, we do know that he had relationships with men, and that his tragic death was a result of HIV/AIDS, and that he’s since become a hugely important figure for millions of LGBT people.

Many of those people feel that Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic for which Rami Malek won Best Actor at this year’s Oscars ceremony, overlooked these aspects of Mercury’s life in favour of a straight-washed and sanitised version of events that would be more palatable to mainstream audiences.

Writing for Vox, Aja Romano says of the movie:

“Bohemian Rhapsody is a movie that consciously tries to position a gay man at its center while strategically disengaging with the “gay’ part as much as it can, flitting briefly over his emotional and sexual experiences and fixating on his platonic relationship with an ex-girlfriend instead.”

Self-described ‘gay historian’ Laurie Marhoefer wrote for The Conversation:

“Mercury, along with all the other men and women who tested positive for HIV in the 1980s, was a victim not just of a pandemic but of the failures of his own governments and of the scorn of his fellow citizens. The laughable initial response to the HIV pandemic helped seal Mercury’s fate.”

The context in which Mercury existed and, tragically, suffered, is important, especially when seeking to create a somewhat realistic biographical film. While celebrating Mercury’s successes and impact is important and worthwhile, his impact cannot be divorced from his sexuality and the impact he had on several generations of LGBT people.

Meanwhile, The Favourite doesn’t shy away from depicting queer sexuality on screen. Between the lovers spats and tastefully-filmed sex scenes, the relationships between the three women at the centre of the film are brought to life by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. Their obvious love for each other – both on and off-screen – is evident, and makes the film a joy to watch.

This chemistry is missing from Bohemian Rhapsody, because it isn’t even given a chance to exist – the main relationship in Mercury’s life, if the film is to be believed, is with his ex-girlfriend.

Gay characters have often been desexualised in film so as to make them seem less threatening, and despite being directed by a gay man, Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t escape this trap.

The Favourite does an excellent job of depicting female sexuality in a balanced way, showing them as sexual beings without falling into any traps of hyper-sexualisation or fetishisation of lesbians.

Maybe it was easier in the case of The Favourite because anyone who would have objected to the overt queerness in the film, or would have criticised the film’s inaccuracies, is long dead, while in Bohemian Rhapsody‘s case, the surviving members of Queen served as creative consultants, and have attended the majority of award shows this season alongside the cast and crew of the film (save for Bryan Singer, who has been conspicuously absent).

But creating the ‘definitive’ biopic about a beloved LGBT icon while overlooking his sexuality in favour of a message about platonic love does both the icon in question and the LGBT community a disservice.

For many LGBT people, especially those who were young in the late 70s and 80s when Queen were at their height, Freddie was one of the first queer celebrities they’d seen. Where is the movie about his life that targets those fans as its main audience? Because Bohemian Rhapsody certainly isn’t it.


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