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Alma Berry is 85. Tonight, she'll be marching for her niece.

Nearly 40 years later after attending the first Mardi Gras in 1978, Uniting aged care resident Alma Berry, 85, is preparing to attend her second Mardi Gras. This time she will march with Uniting. Despite growing up in deeply conservative times, Alma has always been a LGBTI ally through her simple philosophy of not judging others and believing everyone should be equal.

I can only remember vaguely what it was like at the Mardi Gras in 1978.

My husband and I decided to go because it was new and it was different. But there was lots of foul language – I won’t repeat the names that people who were gay were being called. My husband and I saw two fights as well, and we left early.

This year will be the first time I’ve been back.

I’m looking forward to it – I think it will be great. This time at the Mardi Gras I’ll let my hair down and enjoy it. It’s a great chance for all sorts of people – doctors, lawyers, nurses – to all let their hair down.

When I was a teenager nothing was said about homosexuality at all. We didn’t know what gay was – it just wasn’t mentioned. But I think it’s very arrogant to judge someone else. If someone has a different religious belief, that’s their thing. I can’t say people shouldn’t do things that are different to what I do. Everyone should be equal as far I can see.

2017 mardi gras parade
"I live my life and I don’t expect people to judge me, so I don’t judge them." (Image supplied)

My husband and I are from England, and when we went back to visit in 1974 I had a niece who was 12. She came everywhere with us then, so I stayed in contact with her directly after that.

Years later I asked my sister if my niece had a partner – I was sending a Christmas card and thought I’d put the name of her partner on it too, if she had one. My sister said yes she had a partner, and I asked the name.

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My sister said, “Well, it’s a woman.” So I asked, “And what’s her name?”

My sister hadn’t wanted to tell me my niece was a lesbian. She thought I wouldn’t like it. I don’t know why. I didn’t mind at all, she’s still the same person. I live my life and I don’t expect people to judge me, so I don’t judge them.

The family were all quite agreeable about my niece and her partner, and my niece was happy that I knew. My family are all open minded and we all believe everyone has the right to live their own life with equality.

I told my family, including my niece, that I’ll be marching this year and they all think it’s great. My niece is married to the same partner I sent the Christmas card to all those years ago. They got married when it became legal in England, and are very happy.

Things have changed over the years, but Mardi Gras is still important for people. People who march seem to love it – they enjoy it and people can come and stand by them. It helps LGBTI people become recognised and accepted.

And it does bring a lot of money into the country – people come from overseas to be part of this – so it’s good for everyone. If LGBTI communities want the Mardi Gras, they should have it.

2017 mardi gras parade
"This time at the Mardi Gras I’ll let my hair down." (Image supplied)

Alma will be marching with Uniting under the banner ‘Love Is Power’ on Saturday at the 40th Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

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