It’s time to celebrate the most colourful time of the year…
For those lucky enough to attend Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras tonight, it’s bound to be an unforgettable evening of celebration and affirmation.
For those of us watching on our televisions from afar, it’s an opportunity to share in the celebration.
Mardi Gras is a great event for LGBTI Australians.
It’s a powerful demonstration of how far we have come, of our confidence in who we are, and of both our diversity and solidarity as a community.
But when we watch Mardi Gras we should remember the event’s origins when gay activists marched in protest through the streets of Sydney more than three decades ago.
They were seeking equality.
But they were met by violence, intimidation and harassment.
It’s because of their courage, and the courage of countless other LGBTI people over the years, that many of the discriminatory laws and policies have been removed.
Yet for all the progress, the violence, intimidation and harassment which confronted those first marchers in Sydney remain a reality for too many LGBTI people today.
And equality has still not been achieved when same-sex couples cannot marry and when LGBTI families do not have the same rights as other families.
Let’s consider each of these issues.
Researchers from the University of Western Sydney have shown that homophobia is prevalent in Australia’s schools and workplaces, on the streets and at other public venues.
They surveyed over 1,000 young people identifying as gay or sexuality diverse and found nearly two-thirds had been verbally abused and close to one in five had been physically abused.
Homophobia is more than prejudice – it is hatred.
It makes its targets feel bullied, abused, isolated, worthless and alone.
So when we watch the Mardi Gras we need to think about those who are not marching – the young boy growing up in the country town or the teenage girl in the local high school, coming to terms with their identity.