Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which just came to an end, is one of the world’s largest LGBT events and stretches over three weeks. Mardi Gras is a celebration of art, music and, of course, gay culture. The event is one of the city's most profitable events and quite possibly one of the biggest money-makers for New South Wales, as thousands descend upon the province for the experience of a lifetime.
The celebrations began in 1978 as a result of the Stonewall riots in New York. On June 24 at 10 p.m., several hundred gays, lesbians and supporters had a small parade, which was met by major police opposition, resulting in many arrests. Reports of those men and women being beaten in their cells soon spread throughout the community. Protests followed for months and in the end, the actions of the police were deemed excessive. In 1979, the parliament of New South Wales repealed the NSW Summary Offences Act legislation that had allowed the arrests to be made. Later that year, over 3,000 people marched in an incident-free parade. By 1980, the massive party following the parade was added to the line-up and throughout the years, the parade and attendees grew.
By 1989, the numbers of revelers reached 200,000, and in 1993 the number skyrocketed to 500,000. At this point in time, New South Wales was receiving over $38 million for their economy from the Mardi Gras festivities. Now, Mardi Gras is a combination of approximately 100 different art events, a 70,000 person daytime picnic, the parade, and the post-parade party.
I ended up arriving at the tail end of this year's festivities. My hotel, the Pullman Hyde Park, a landmark property with a recent renovation, is just steps from Oxford Street, the main drag for anything gay in the city. For those looking for a hip boutique hotel, and don’t mind a further walk, check out the QT Hotel as it’s regarded as one of the best. My first inclination that I was in for a super gay weekend was at my use of the ATM, or as one bank renamed it, gAyTM, a very clever PR move as the three decorated machines were the subject of many Instagram photos.
The bars were insanely packed and the lines outside them were not only daunting, but necessary. The bars and clubs in town are very careful to fill up quickly and tend to stick to a one-in, one-out policy, which can be frustrating, but when the crowds are huge, necessary. Everyone in town is rather friendly, so waiting in line is an easy way to make new friends. For Americans visiting, just be prepared to be disappointed in the liquor pours, as they are truly pathetic. One ounce equals a lot of money! It’s a party, just come ready to spend.
The Mardi Gras Parade was a spectacle. Thousands lined the streets to watch the floats, while seating is available for purchase and they were very much worth it. Within the private seating were private outdoor bars, a convenient addition. But what we were all waiting for was the big official party after the parade. This was unlike any other mass gay circuit party I have ever seen. Looking down on the crowds from the elevated VIP room, I realized how truly amazing it was to see so many beautiful bodies dancing to the thumping sounds. What was truly fascinating was that the main hall I was in was not the only one; it was like a mini-village of dance floors and stages. Fortunately, the parties went until the morning hours.
Australia is definitely not a quick flight over from the U.S., but Mardi Gras is worth the hassle of the trip. If parties are not your thing, the three weeks of Mardi Gras provides an unlimited amount of options for anyone wanting to visit. It’s all over for this year, so now is the perfect time to gather your group and start planning your 2015 trip. See ya there.