Everyone has an opinion about a Pride March such as the annual Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras; often very strong opinions. Predictably, conservative Christians condemn it. Rev Fred Nile, leader of the Christian Democratic Party regularly condemns it. In March 2007 his media release read, “I call upon Anthony Venn-Brown and these marchers to withdraw from this blasphemous, obscene parade and not bring the Name of Jesus Christ into disrepute”. He believes that the judgement of God comes on Sydney because of it and each year encourages Christians to pray for rain on the night.

But criticism is not just from those outside the community. Even some gay and lesbian people think it’s not a good thing to have an annual community celebration, particularly marching publicly down a main street. I love the Simpsons episode where Homer has taken the family to see the Pride march. As the marchers pass the family a group are yelling out the slogan. WE’RE HERE! WE’RE QUEER! GET USED TO IT! Lisa yells back WE ARE USED TO IT! YOU’VE BEEN DOING THIS FOR YEARS”.

Whenever someone voices strong opinions against the Mardi Gras parade you can usually guarantee it means one or all of the following.

1. They have never actually seen the parade in its entirety

2.They have never participated in the parade and therefore don’t understand the dynamics of the experience

3. They have no knowledge of the history of the gay community’s parades and celebrations

False assumptions are the result of ignorance and that ignorance has meant that pride celebrations like Mardi Gras, have been labelled blasphemous, immoral, debauched and promoting homosexuality. For many years, because of my own lack of knowledge and experience, I too was a critic.

Let me address each of these three points.

1. They have never actually seen the parade in its entirety

Firstly their judgment is usually based solely on media images of the most outrageous and least dressed entrants. Well of course. That is the media. They always focus on the controversial and sensational. But you have to admit though that the LGBTI community are a creative and colourful bunch and certainly know how to put on a parade.

Secondly, many people think that these parades are a promotion of sex and reinforce stereotypes. But, the parade is actually a promotion of the LGBTI community. That community is diverse and is reflected in the groups that march. Of the thousands that  participate each year many hundreds of individual groups are represented such as religious groups, cultural groups, groups that promote abstinence from drinking and drugs, political and lobby groups, lifestyle and recreational groups, support groups of every shape and size and disabled groups. Along with this you will see corporate groups that promote diversity and service groups such as the police force and gays and lesbians in the military. Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) and gay parents with their children march. 

2. They have never participated in the parade and therefore don’t understand the dynamics of the experience.

Ask anyone who has actually marched in a parade such as Mardi Gras. For the majority of people it is a life transforming experience. You may begin with all sorts of fears and concerns but by the time you’ve reached the end, with all the positive affirmation and cheering, you have an enormous sense of personal and community pride. As I used to say to the Freedom2b group each year we marched. “The person you are at the end of this parade will be very different to the person you were at the beginning. You have been delivered form any last traces of shame or fear that might be lurking in your subconscious.  You will never forget the first time you marched in the Mardi Gras parade and you will look back at it as a significant moment in your journey to letting go of fear and shame and genuinely loving the person you were created to be. Read how profound that experience can be here. A Divine Moment in the Mardi Gras Parade.

3. They have no knowledge of the history of the gay community’s parades and celebrations

To understand Mardi Gras – we really need to understand its history. “It began on June 24, 1978 as a protest march and commemoration of the Stonewall Riots. Although the organizers had obtained permission, this was revoked, and the march was broken up by the police. Many of the marchers were arrested. Although most charges were eventually dropped, the Sydney Morning Herald published the names of those arrested in full, leading to many people being outed to their friends and places of employment, and many of those arrested lost their jobs as homosexuality was a crime in New South Wales until 1982.” [i]

Of those who were arrested and had their names published many lost their jobs and a few suicided as a result. Today, however there is a better understanding of sexuality, society attitudes and laws have changed, equality granted and therefore discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation is now illegal in this country. Obviously we owe a great deal to those people who marched in the first Mardi Gras. This is the day we celebrate our community and the progress we have made. Just as many historical events are celebrated annually.

Why do you have to have a special day and parade?

This is a criticism we often hear, ‘you are flaunting your sexuality and promoting homosexuality’ some people say. Every year there is a father’s day, mother’s day. Every day of the year around the world we celebrate heterosexual weddings and anniversaries, engagements, baby showers etc, etc. These are all celebrating heterosexuality and their relationships. Surely it is not too much to ask that for just one day a year, we too can celebrate our lives, journeys, culture and history as a community. Some people don’t understand why we have to have Gay Pride. The reason for that is pretty simple; they have never personally experienced gay shame.

When you hear of Gay Pride, remember, it was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay.

It evolved out of our struggle as human beings to break free of oppression and to exist without being criminalized, pathologized or persecuted for being who we are.

Depending on a number of factors, particularly religion, freeing ourselves from gay shame and coming to self-love and acceptance, can not only be an agonising journey, it can take years. Tragically some never make it.

If you are wondering why there isn’t a straight pride, be grateful you have never needed one.

Celebrate with us.

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Gay_and_Lesbian_Mardi_Gras