On this day February 24: Gay Mardi Gras 1982

Gay Mardi Gras 1982 february 24
Images: Tribune

On February 24 1982 the Tribune reported on Mardi Gras 1982 preparations. The paper forecast that February 27 would see “the largest public demonstration of lesbians, gay men and their supporters ever seen in Australia.”

That proved accurate. A later article reported 10,000 attendees.

“Among the 24 floats were those from Lesbian Line, gay church groups and the Gay Rights Lobby. Most floats were provided by gay businesses, bars and social clubs.

“The Mardi Gras was political in the broadest sense — ‘an affirmation of the validity of our lives and our right to live the way we choose without having to apologise to anyone for what we are’, the organising committee said in a broadsheet distributed during the parade.”

Also in the Tribune on February 24, a letter from the Sydney Intervention Bookshop Collective endorsing previous protests against the Gay Mardi Gras 1982 poster. A letter the previous week pointed out the alarming lack of representation of the poster.

“The Mardi Gras is traditionally attended by male homosexuals and lesbians, but this year’s Mardi Gras poster does not try to depict women’s involvement. Five of the six figures in the poster ‘look like’ young men; the sixth, with make-up, appears to be a transvestite.”

The Sydney Gay Communist Collective responded angrily to criticism of the poster.

“We suggest that the author was sexist in claiming that the woman on the poster ‘looked like a transvestite’. It is sexist to assume that any woman who ‘looks masculine’ must be a transvestite.”

Living History Walk

Drama notwithstanding, the parade went ahead with the participation of an estimated 1000 lesbians.

Many attributed the increased numbers to opposition to the NSW Crimes (Homosexual Behaviour) Amendment Bill proposed by Barrie Unsworth. The bill would liberalise laws against homosexuality but not repeal them.

Robert French from the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition spoke against the bill before the march, one of a handful of speakers to ever address the parade. He explained that the Unsworth Bill would indeed worsen, not improve, the situation in NSW for gays.

“This bill poses under the guise of genuine law reform for homosexuals but is a sham. As a result of it, there are probably people here tonight who will not be with us at Mardi Gras 83.

“They will be in gaol.”

Wonderfully, on February 27 2022, the 40th anniversary of the 1982 parade, Robert French lead a Mardi Gras Living History Walk with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence .

Read more: February 23 <— On this day —> February 25

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1 Comment

  1. Phillip Carswell
    27 February 2022

    Ironically some didn’t get to the 1983 Parade – they were dead or dying from a plague that attacked a whole generation.

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