The Big Issue : Edition 555
THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 9–22 FEB 2018 25 XXX SYDNEY’S MARDI GRAS – it’s warm weather that comes to mind: hot pants; torsos glistening with sweat; flags billowing as the water of Sydney Harbour gives you a blue wink. But 40 years ago, the first Mardi Gras was held in late June, and it was cold. In 1978, Mardi Gras wasn’t a joyous celebration and a mass sprinkling of glitter on Oxford Street; it was a protest. “What you need to understand is that it didn’t start in 1978, it started well before,” explains Titi Chartay, a long-time activist and an original “78er”. “One of the big issues at the time was to decriminalise homosexuality [this didn’t happen in NSW until 1984], but by the time we get to 1978 there hadn’t been much movement,” adds Chartay. “People were a bit weary of the same-old demos. Quite literally it was a few people sitting around in a living room in Sydney, and someone said, ‘Hey why don’t we have a Mardi Gras like they do in Rio de Janeiro?’” So, on 24 June, to promote the forthcoming National Homosexual Conference and as solidarity with San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day, a parade was held. “The point was, yeah we need to fight for our rights and stop police attacks,” says Chartay, “but also to celebrate who we are, as people, as a community. It was fun...initially.” But when the parade reached Hyde Park, things quickly escalated. Police confiscated the main float car, and things got violent. Fifty-three people were arrested. The Sydney Morning Herald published the names, occupations and home addresses of all of them. Chartay was part of a dogged group outside that held vigils, protest marches at police stations and raised the thousands of dollars needed for bail and fines. Many lost their jobs. But the next year, they showed up again. “People were nervous for the second one. There was a fear that it could get ugly again. But you can’t capitulate. It’s as simple as that,” says Chartay. “When you’re fighting for rights, it’s not something you do casually.” In 1980 a post-parade party was added; in 1981 the event was moved to summer to take advantage of Sydney’s warmer climes. And, year after year, they kept showing up. Now co-chair of the Original 78ers Collective, Chartay hasn’t missed a year. “You can actually chart social changes by participation and responses to the Mardi Gras over the last four decades,” she points out. “You end up now having people from the armed forces and police marching.” Other than making her feel like she is getting old, the 40th anniversary celebration is a reminder to Chartay of how important it is to persevere in the fight for equality. “I’m an absolute believer in the maxim that you never take anything for granted. But I’m also a great believer in humour, and being joyous about living our lives.” by Katherine Smyrk (@KSmyrk), Deputy Editor » Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is on 16 February-4 March.