When ABC first aired Mardi Gras in 1994, homophobes were furious

ABC broadcast of Mardi Gras from 1994
Image: ABC

The ABC was flooded with complaints when it decided to first televise the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1994, including from dozens of politicians.

On Saturday night (February 25), the ABC will again screen the 45th annual Mardi Gras parade. The event coincides with WorldPride celebrations underway across Sydney.

But a resurfaced ABC News report from 29 years ago details the homophobic backlash against the broadcaster for bringing Mardi Gras to TV in 1994.

“A host of NSW MPs today joined the chorus of federal politicians opposing ABC plans to televise the highlights,” the ABC reported at the time.

In all, as many as 90 politicians signed letters opposing the broadcast before it had aired. Thousands of others opposed sent letters – many suspiciously similar – and phoned the ABC.

However supporters argued – correctly – the event was “a huge drawcard for foreign tourists and all of Australia stands to benefit.”

Businesses feared being ‘homosexually orientated’

As well as a flurry of excitement on Oxford Street, Mardi Gras approached two dozen companies about sponsorship in 1994.

But “only three wanted to be linked with the event,” the ABC reported. This was because companies were “very resistant” to “alienating what they regard as their normal market segments.”

“Most companies seem to think that if they do sponsor it, that implies the owners or the company itself is homosexually orientated,” an ad exec explains.

Ultimately, the one-hour Mardi Gras broadcast won the ABC huge ratings. Later, an extended VHS tape of the coverage was also a big seller for the ABC.

Of course, today companies and brands rush to capitalise on the popularity of Mardi Gras.

On Saturday night, over 200 floats and 12,500 parade participants will march through Sydney for the 45th annual parade.

The Mardi Gras Parade is back on Oxford Street for the first time since the pandemic.

In 1994, Kylie Minogue delivered her first Mardi Gras performance at that year’s Party.

On Friday night (February 24), she’s performing at the WorldPride opening concert alongside headliners Charli XCX and Jessica Mauboy. The concert is also screening on ABC tonight.

Watch the ABC’s full 1994 Mardi Gras broadcast below:

Read also: Mardi Gras parade route in Sydney gets NSW heritage listing

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