Mardi Gras gaiety lightens economic gloom

Article from: AAP

By Adam Bennett and Vincent Morello

March 07, 2009 09:21pm

THE world may be lurching further into recession as Australia battles to stay afloat, but about 300,000 Mardi Gras partygoers didn't let that rain on their parade.

Now in its 31st year, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras provided the perfect antidote to economic doom and gloom.

The glamorous and sometimes trashy costumes of the 10,000 people taking part in the parade, and those of hundreds of thousands of spectators, lit up the parade route through inner Sydney tonight.

As tradition dictates, about 200 Dykes on Bikes roared down Oxford St in a prelude to the main show, for a brief moment drowning out the crowd.

Chief of Parade, Olympian diver Matthew Mitcham, took centre stage on the first float, dressed in green shorts and gold singlet, his Beijing gold medal hanging around his neck.

Surrounding him were male dancers, dressed in Speedos and carrying scorecards.

Earlier on Saturday, the only openly gay medal winner at the Beijing Games said he grew up as an "ugly duckling'' but became a champion on the trampoline and, later, the diving board to complete his fairytale story.

"Mardi Gras is the biggest celebration of homosexuality in the world and aims to promote not just the tolerance but the acceptance of the gay community in the wider community,'' he said.

The parade began at Hyde Park in Sydney's CBD, with the 135 floats slowly winding their way down Oxford and Flinders streets to Moore Park, in front of many thousands of spectators.

 Oxford St was a sea of colour, with tinsel and glitz, rainbow flags and flags of all nationalities dotting the crowd as gay and straight alike got into the spirit of the party.

First-time marcher Nick Roskolnikov said he was excited and nervous to be taking part in the event.

With his friends, the 31-year-old Sydneysider was dressed as an oil-rich Arab sheikh - with the group celebrating Mardi Gras and Mr Roskolnikov's birthday.

"It's an amazing celebration,'' Mr Roskolnikov said from behind his thick, gold-rimmed sunglasses.

"It's a lot of fun... (Mardi Gras) celebrates who you are.''

The tough economic times would not dent the party, he said.

"It's even more of a reason to celebrate, really.''

From beneath her pink tinsel wig, Eden Bates said it was important to mark the progress made by the gay and lesbian community since the beginning of Mardi Gras in 1978.

"It's important to celebrate how far we've come,'' the 40-year-old from Sydney said.

"We're here to support the community, and be part of it.''

The 31st Mardi Gras, with a theme of Nations United, was more political than predecessors.

Meant as a tribute to homosexuals around the world who may not enjoy the freedoms of Australia, the theme harked back to Mardi Gras' origins as a protest for gay rights.

 "The parade is truly one of the most amazing events you'll find in Australia today,'' Mardi Gras chair David Imrie said in Sydney.

"It's spectacular, it's funny, it's topical, it's an x-ray of our culture, our mood and what's on our minds.''

He compared Australia to Russia, where the Moscow Pride parade has been labelled "satanic'' by its mayor and banned, Mr Imrie said.

"It's made us reflect on how lucky we are in so many ways.

"We hope Mardi Gras can act as a beacon for our gay brothers and sisters everywhere.''

Britney Guilleaume, one of those taking part in the Amnesty International float, wore a black shirt emblazoned with the statement  "77 Nations - Love _ Prison; 7 Nations - Love _ Death''.

"It is just acknowledging that in other countries you don't have gay rights,'' said the 20 year-old, originally from California but now living in Sydney.

"Sydney is very forward-thinking, liberal-minded and progressive.''

New South Wales Police said the Mardi Gras crowd had been well behaved, with no reported arrests.

"As far as I know, it's all good,'' a spokesman said just before 9pm (AEDT).

Roads around Hyde Park, Darlinghurst and Moore Park have been closed for the event, including Oxford and Flinders streets and parts of Anzac Parade.

All roads will be reopened by 4am on Sunday.

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