It’s been a year of trials, tears and triumph for LGBTI families and their kids.
The marriage equality postal survey put rainbow families on the frontline of a divisive debate that ultimately ruled that yes, love does make a family.
That message will be stronger than ever at the 2018 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade on Saturday March 3, with a surge of parents and kids rushing to join the Australian LGBTI community and its friends’ biggest night of celebration and protest.
Rainbow Families, a leading community and advocacy group for LGBTI parents and their children in NSW, the ACT and wider Australia, quickly filled up their allocated 150 spots – with a waiting list of 200 people hoping to get a chance to march in their “Love Makes a Family” t-shirts.
“Around a third of the people marching are kids, and that’s from a four-week-old baby coming along all the way up to teenagers,” Rainbow Families NSW coordinator Ashley Scott tells Mamamia.
“So, everyone on different stages of the journey [are] bringing their families along to celebrate.”
Ashley and his partner of 14 years, James, will march with their daughters Stella, six, and Pia, three.
“The kids love it – they think it’s a big party,” Ashley says. “They run up Oxford Street high-fiving everyone on the way and they have a great time.”
The Rainbow Families contingent will combine three floats: Rainbow Families NSW, the Rainbow Families Playgroups and Gay Dads NSW, united under a theme of "Together We Sparkle". Between their trucks, they'll have pushbikes blowing thousands of bubbles into the air as the young and young at heart dance up the rainbow route of Oxford Street to Anzac Parade.
"This year we have had everyone in our community wanting to march with us," Ashley tells us. "Everyone wants to get out and celebrate the wonderful win we had last year with marriage equality and be with their community and their friends and march with the broader community of LGBTIQ people in Australia at Mardi Gras, but also to remember that there is still a lot to fight for."
The interest in their float garnered the attention of Mardi Gras organisers, too. Due to the overwhelming demand from families, Mardi Gras offered a special sectioned-off viewing area with food trucks and facilities for Rainbow Families' parents and kids who didn't get a spot in the parade. Within just 25 minutes of being released on Monday, 400 tickets were snatched up and the area was filled to capacity.
It will be Rainbow Families' third year marching in the parade - and it's only getting more and more popular with each year. The organisation ran a series of successful events throughout the Mardi Gras Festival, from a Luna Park family day which sold 600 tickets, to an LGBTI antenatal class for expecting couples.
And while the 195 floats and 12,000 people marching will be spreading joy and celebration, there will always be a grounding in protest. This year, on the 40th anniversary since the first-ever Mardi Gras ended in police violence and media shaming, groups like Rainbow Families hope to show not only how much has changed, but how much still needs to change to achieve full equality.
For LGBTI parents, that can be anything from the challenges of having children, dealing with passport applications to discrimination in the school system.
We take a look back at the very long road that led to Australia finally legalising marriage equality. Post continues after audio.
"[It's] things like Medicare not being offered to people wanting to do domestic surrogacy in Australia. Gay dads have to pay for all the surrogate costs because it’s not covered by Medicare," Ashley says. "And the fact that there is no Safe Schools - there's nothing in the school curriculum to protect our children and our families.
"We've got a family at a school in the inner west [of Sydney], which is a very gay-friendly area, and their child started kindergarten this year and has a trans parent. And there's been lots comments within the classroom and school community – negative comments unfortunately.
"The parents have gone to the school and asked for assistance and…the school's not providing any support. So Rainbow Families is going in to advocate on behalf of that family and to talk with the school principal and teachers about how they can better support this family as they start this school journey."
Visit mardigras.org.au for a full round-up of the parade route, floats and event line-up this weekend. Happy Mardi Gras!