What was the impact of Mardi Gras?

Starting with a flat-bed track and a few hundred people, the Mardi Gras parade is now one of the largest and most glamorous street parades in the world. Today, a street party by the LGBTIQ community is celebrated by many thousands of spectators but in 1978, a street party where participants dared to demonstrate pride in being lesbian or gay was a brazen act of defiance in the context of the intense institutionalised homophobia and discrimination of the time.

But rather than forcing a retreat, the violence by Police against parade participants fuelled greater defiance and determination among lesbian and gay activists and their supporters - underpinning the mass campaign for law reform.

While some gay groups and businesses at the time preferred to keep a low profile, Mardi Gras contributed to pushing LGBTIQ rights onto the public agenda.

The energy of the early Mardi Gras parades led to many years of creative confrontation with the Christian Right, and gave some confidence to our communities in the darkest moments of the AIDS crisis from the early 1980s.

The political impact of the Mardi Gras parades was also evident in the achievement in 1985 by the Gay & Lesbian Immigration Task Force of recognition of same sex “inter-dependent” relationships for Australian immigration, ahead of almost all other countries.

Mardi Gras also gave impetus to broadening the diversity LGBTIQ interest groups and businesses, identity and enterprise.

Now the parade represents a brilliant expression of creativity and community and a quirky, queer commentary on current events. It is a beacon for young people coming to terms with their sexuality, struggling with coming out in country towns, outer suburbs and in the bush. It remains a very public affirmation of the LGBTIQ community.