"It saves lives." Three women on what Mardi Gras means to them.

Saturday March 6th marked the 2021 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras... which is pretty remarkable in itself when you consider what stood in its way. 

All the hurdles that have come with COVID-19 meant the parade nearly didn't happen, but in the true spirit of this year's parade, the LGBTQIA+ community rose to the occasion, masterminding a massive pivot to ensure the show could go on.

Gone were the large trucks down Sydney’s Oxford Street and in their place were people on foot marching in colourful costumes around the Sydney Cricket Stadium. 

Watch: Dating as a trans woman. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

While the setup looked different this year the energy and inclusive spirit was as infectious as ever. And although the parade is but one day a year, Mardi Gras and its message of acceptance and community is something that needs to be championed by all communities all year round.

I had had the pleasure of chatting to three women about what their involvement in Mardi Gras meant to them.

Chloe O’Leary

Chloe O’Leary. Image: Supplied.


Tell us a little about yourself.

“My name is Chloe O’Leary and I’ve been part of the L’Oréal family, who are a major partner of the parade, for over five years. I am currently the Learning and Development Lead for Australia and New Zealand. 

“I’m lucky that as part of my role I get to support the development of people to help them reach their potential. At L’Oréal Australia we pride ourselves in the upskilling of our workforce to future proof our business. I love that I get to play a part in growing our people and supporting the business in being the #1 beauty company in Australia.”

What does being involved in Mardi Gras mean to you?

“I was front and centre in the parade, proudly representing the L’Oréal Australia family. For me, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is not just a party, it’s about standing up for others when they’re unable to stand up for themselves.

“It wasn’t that long ago that if you were queer you had to stay in the closet. Homosexuality was only decriminalised across Australia in 1994, when I was four years old. For some, being open about our sexualities and gender identities still comes with a real threat of professional and personal repercussion, or worse violence. 

“Queer people don’t experience the ‘luxury of oblivion’ that many heterosexual people enjoy. I know myself, in some situations I still consider my openness and can be guarded, which saddens me to admit. 

“However, as a cis white queer woman living in Australia in 2021 - I am so privileged. This is not the case for everyone in the LGBTQI+ community, even in Australia. Participating in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a way to use this privilege to empower those whose voices aren’t heard as loud. This important event is a powerful message of love and activism – when people experience the parade there is a greater chance of it growing, influencing and teaching more people and gathering more allies for the LGBTQI+ community.”

What's your favourite memory from Mardi Gras?

“Last year was my first Mardi Gras. I cannot express how proud I was to be at such an important event wearing my L’Oréal t-shirt. Simply being at the Mardi Gras with the company I work for was my favourite moment. 

“Also, seeing our Managing Director Rodrigo Pizarro march alongside our employees was definitely a highlight. It was a clear sign that inclusion isn’t just something we talk about at L’Oréal Australia, our leaders live and breathe it. We aspire to have the type of culture that encourages and enables all employees to thrive - no matter who you are, where you come from, what you believe or who you love.”

Kate Wickett

 Kate Wickett. Image: Supplied.


Tell us a little about yourself. 

“My name is Kate Wickett, I am the interim CEO of Sydney WorldPride 2023. I’ve been on the board of Mardi Gras for four years. I am a passionate believer in the power of the LGBTIQ+ communities and that’s why equality, inclusion, pride and self-expression are my core values.” 

What does being involved in Mardi Gras mean to you?

“As CEO of Sydney World Pride, I’ll be using Mardi Gras 2021 to really listen to the community about what experiences they want from Sydney World Pride in 2023. The fact that during a global pandemic the Mardi Gras team have been able to stage this extraordinary festival is a testament to the skills, collaboration and dedication of our community.

“I love Mardi Gras, because I genuinely believe it saves lives; it gives people from all walks of life, from all over our country, an opportunity to come together to celebrate and fully express themselves in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. Also you’ve never seen so many smiling faces in your life, if we could bottle the power of those smiles we could power the entire country.”

What's your favourite memory from Mardi Gras?

“When I was 19 I flew down to Mardi Gras from Darwin with my two best friends, we ended up at the Mardi Gras party, standing underneath the mirror ball hugging, laughing and dancing. I felt this amazing energy from the community and I knew at that moment that I would remember that night for the rest of my life.” 

Cris Alessi

 Cris Alessi. Image: Supplied.


Tell us a little about yourself. 

“I’m Cris Alessi, I’m the Head of Store Design for the Consumer Product Division at L’Oreal and have been with the business for 10 years. I’m the 'go-to' for all new in-store ideas, trials and proposals to retailers and also projects owned by the retailer that include our brands.

“I love what l do - every day presents a different challenge and I am very passionate about working for L’Oréal. L’Oréal is a huge part of me and has presented me with great opportunities so l consider myself very fortunate.

“Away from work I’ve been in a long term same-sex relationship for 16 years strong. My partner and l have a beautiful home and together we have three fur babies which are the love of our lives!” 

What does being involved in Mardi Gras mean to you?

“Unfortunately I didn’t attend this year however l was part of L’Oréal’s first-ever parade in 2020 which was a massive highlight! Being heavily involved was a pinnacle from both a work and personal perspective. 

“Last year L’Oréal gave me the opportunity to be involved with float design which would have to be the most amazing experience. I also marched in front of the parade holding a giant L, which was an epic moment. Mardi Gras, to me, means raising awareness. It’s a celebration that everyone can get involved, barriers come down and there’s no judgment! It’s an opportunity for our LGBTQIA community and everyone else to be part of a unique event that celebrates equality and diversity.” 

What's your favourite memory from Mardi Gras?

"I have attended many Mardi Gras! I’ve had the most amazing time at every parade, the lead up is exciting, deciding what you’re going to wear is exciting, it’s just an amazing experience and a hell of a lot of fun!:

Feature Image: Supplied.