This Saturday Oxford Street in Darlinghurst will be closed to traffic to make way for the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras parade, now in its 33rd year.
The 16-day Mardis Gras festival launched on February 19 and there have been daily events and performances since then, including Fair Day at Victoria Park at inner-city Glebe, the Lifesavers with Pride beach BBQ and carnival at Tamarama Beach and the Mardis Gras Film Festival.
United States author Armistead Maupin, who wrote the excellent and addictive Tales of the City series about San Francisco's gay community in the 1970s and 80s, is also giving a reading and being interviewed at a literary event TONIGHT at the Sydney Opera House. Tickets cost between $39 and $59, plus booking fee and you can purchase them here.
Darlinghurst has been abuzz with Mardis Gras fever since the festival was launched. There are loads of gay tourists on the streets taking photographs and holding maps, while there are dozens of posters plastered up around the neighbourhood advertising special Mardis Gras offers and events.
The first Sydney Mardis Gras was held on Saturday June 24, 1978, as part of international Gay Solidarity Celebrations to promote gay and lesbian rights. You would think we have come a long way since then, but gay and lesbian people still have to fight to gain equality and acceptance in the community. Even in Darlinghurst.
Peter Madden is the Christian Democrat Party's candidate for the Seat of Sydney in the state election on March 26. Mr Madden - perhaps unsurprisingly given the party's long stance against gay people - is running on a platform that includes putting an end to the Sydney Mardis Gras parade. Madden claims the festival is ''sexually immoral'' and believes the parade is an opportunity for gay and lesbian people to ''recruit'' young people.
Okay, he is completely mad, but I still can't believe people believe this shit in 2011.
Mr Madden aside, gay and lesbian couples in Australia are still fighting for the right to be legally wed, with many being forced to travel overseas to the United States or Canada, where it is legal, just to get married.
There was an interesting Crikey article this week, by Tom Cowie, about whether Mardis Gras is still relevant and it's worth reading just for the comments by readers.
The parade begins at Hyde Park and travels up Oxford Street and then along Flinders Street to Moore Park for the Post Parade Party at the Royal Hall of Industries. The parade consists of over 100 colourful floats surrounded by dancers. Most of the floats have a political or comic theme and some regulars include Dykes on Bikes, Tits on Trucks and Muscle Marys.
I was going to write a potted history about the parade but the Sydney Mardis Gras website has that covered, so instead I will just pull out some interesting little facts and curios about the event, for which this year's theme is Say Something.
About 1500 people attended the first Mardis Gras parade. They met at Taylor Square and then marched behind a truck equipped with a sound system down Oxford Street to Hyde Park. They were harassed by police officers along the way because holding such a demonstration was illegal. Many revellers ran up William Street to Darlinghurst Road to escape the police, but instead were met by a road block where officers swooped and arrested 53 people, who were allegedly beaten in the cells.
It wasn't a good start but it paved the way for legislative change in 1979 when NSW Parliament created a new Public Assemblies Act that allowed people to apply for a permit to hold such a large demonstration.
In 1979, 3000 people marched in the parade.
In 2009, 10,000 people marched in the parade.
About 500,000 people turned out to watch the parade in 1993.
At the height of the AIDS scare in 1985, the parade was nearly cancelled when the head of Australia's AIDS Task Force controversially appealed to ''the gays to be responsible enough to cancel the Mardis Gras activities''. The parade went ahead but organisers of the Post Parade Party had to pay double for the venue hire to placate the owner.
The Mardis Gras parade was first broadcast on television in 1994 in a 50-minutes highlights special on the ABC. In 1997 the event was broadcast by commercial channel, Network Ten, and this year it will be screened live on pay-TV channel Arena, from 7.30pm.
About 2 million birds worldwide are plucked to provide enough feathers for the Sydney Mardis Gras.
Sequin factories in China have to work overtime for three months to supply an estimated 20 million spangly sequins for the event.
The Mardis Gras festival attracts thousand of international and interstate visitors, generating an estimated $39 million in tourist dollars for the NSW economy.
Boy George, The Village People, Chaka Khan, Jimmy Barnes, Kylie Minogue, Danni Minogue, George Michael and Cyndi Lauper are just some of the musicians that have performed at the Mardis Gras's Post Parade Party, which attracts up to 20,000 people.
This year the Mardis Gras Party is being held at the Royal Hall of Industries and the Hordern Pavilion at the Entertainment Quarter at Moore Park, but the big act has yet to be announced.
Darlinghurst's Stonewall Hotel at 175 Oxford Street is named after the original Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village. The Stonewall Inn was owned by the mafia during the 1950s and 60s and was a popular place for the city's most marginalised residents, including gay and lesbian people.
On June 28, 1969 the inn was raided by police, who regularly targeted gay bars, and a riot ensued.
The tensions between the police and gay and lesbian citizens intensified over the following weeks leading to the establishment of resident activist groups that campaigned for equal rights and organised venues where gay and lesbian people could socialise without fear of being arrested.
There are NO car spaces in Darlinghurst on Mardis Gras night, so leave your vehicle at home if you are coming in to the neighbourhood. Just for fun, why not catch the 311 Bus?
P.S. I made up those statistics about the feather and sequins.