Wow. When I hear the words ‘Mardi Gras’, I just get filled with this fabulous warm feeling. I love Mardi Gras, I have wonderful memories and appreciate it’s significance in my life.

The whole festival is fantastic.  The cultural events, great theatre, live performances, art, the Fair Day, and of course all culminating in the amazing parade that radiates our community’s pride. 

I went to my first Mardi Gras in the mid 80’s when I was 17.  I went every year after that for 20 years in a row! Over those two decades I saw so many incredible things.  I remember in the early parades, we just rocked up at Taylor Square and stood there to watch and cheer. You didn't have to plan because there weren’t crowds, it was relatively low key - not even any street barriers.  

It was so exciting and emotional. I had a strong sense of belonging - these were my people and I wasn’t alone. 

I felt like I identified with Mardi Gras and what it represented. For me it was one of the few places at the time where I could feel safe to be visible, to even just hold hands with my partner. I had a feeling of connection with the LGBTIQ community, a shared experience of being excluded and marginalised from the mainstream. I loved the diversity and I was blown away – there were people in every colour, shape and size! 

In the early days I didn't have a deep understanding of the political nature of Mardi Gras. I just felt like I was in the right place and I was free to be me.  

I marched in the parade on three different occasions. Other years I gathered with a partner or friends and celebrated - sometimes on fold-out chairs or standing on crates in the street with our champagne.  Some years in the Bobby Goldsmith stand being entertained by fabulous drag queens, or sometimes on stylish hotel balconies above Oxford Street. 

My last year at Mardi Gras I marched as a member of ‘Rainbow Babies’.  I proudly had my son in the pram, he was so excited, and I remember thinking how much my life had changed. So many same sex parents, marching up Oxford Street with the next generation - it felt triumphant. We were out, loud and proud. For most of us the journey had not been easy.

I stopped going to the parade after we moved out of Sydney. It grew massively as an event and became much harder to access with the crowds, but I have always continued to watch it on television and celebrate from afar.  

One of the things that I've always loved about the LGBTIQ community is our sense of fun.  Even though Mardi Gras began as a protest, I love the way that we've always been able to make a statement about pride.   To be able to protest the injustices we have experienced, to bring awareness, but always in a way that embraces humour, colour and joyfulness.

That’s what Mardi Gras means for me – acknowledging and highlighting discrimination and homophobia, while celebrating the strength of the community, and its ability to find the laughter and light. 

A stand out for me was, In 1998.  Over two hundred of the original 1978 Marchers were invited to lead the parade as a salute to the 20th anniversary of that struggle. The police marched for the first time that year to honour the 78ers (the original Marchers).

The combination was fantastic, and I remember everyone went wild. I'll never forget the roar of the crowd, it was a symbol of how far things had come in 20 years. It was a proud moment for members of the police who were a part of our community.  It was such a privilege to have been a part of those events. They were huge changes in our community and Mardi Gras was fundamental in those developments. 

By the late 1980’s HIV/AIDS had become a significant issue. One of the really moving things was how significant Mardi Gras became for many of our community who were sick.  So many men became ill with HIV/AIDS and there were usually a lot of deaths not long after the festival.  It was a terrible time, we all lost friends and the community grieved.

Mardi Gras was a beacon of light, it was like so many of our gay boys found the will to live for that last final hurrah at Mardi Gras, even if that meant being there in a wheelchair.

I think that demonstrated for me how important it was especially in Sydney, but also as a national and international event. Mardi Gras brought that light into the year for so many people - it was a huge focal point.  

I was brought up in a conservative Catholic white middle-class family in suburban Sydney. I had never had any exposure to gay and lesbian issues or culture. I don't recall knowing the word lesbian, I just knew the term ‘gay’ which primarily referred to men.

It was hard not to feel invisible. There was no reference point, no role models, no lesbians in the media or films then. I certainly didn’t have any notion of sexuality other than heterosexuality. Nobody had those conversations. I wasn't exposed to anything that gave me any indication that my feelings were in any way normal.  So my response was to remain silent and not tell anyone.   

When I had my first same sex relationship with a school friend at 16, it was wonderful and felt natural and right. But we shared fear and guilt about the repercussions because we knew our relationship would be judged as wrong

Our relationship was a secret, and we felt the injustice of that, but it felt like there was nobody safe to tell.  I was living two entirely separate lives. We couldn’t be open and authentic about loving each other and that was so hard. We had a few precious allies who supported us, they were such gems I will always be grateful for. 

I hope allies never underestimate the power of their support.  Silence and shame eventually took its toll, and when that relationship ended a few years later, it was a devastatingly lonely time.

It’s hard to believe it was only 35 years ago. Most of us in same sex relationships lived in a hidden sub- culture, in gay bars and clubs, or in private homes behind closed doors, away from the judgements of the world.

As I grew older, I went to university and found my confidence in my 20s. I started to meet a broader range of people, to better understand the politics of sexuality and gender. I found the voice I needed to come out with my family. I finally had a framework to work within, but my family didn’t understand or have that framework. It took a lot of time to educate them and it was hard.  

For me what’s amazing is the incredible change that I see now with young people around LGBTIQ issues. It’s also a different landscape for young LGBTIQ people, which is fantastic. Of course, there are still issues of inequality and discrimination, homophobia is still alive.  There are hardships, and work to be done. But now we have conversation about the issues that LGBTIQ people face.

We have had public debates about same sex marriage, the issues for our community have public exposure, there is education about sexuality and discussions in schools. We now exist and are visible in media, film, literature, and awareness is growing all the time.  

I think that one of the biggest differences now is how young people see same sex attraction and relationships.

When my kids bring their friends home, and introduce their two mums, nobody blinks. We still wonder and prepare ourselves, we worry about our children being teased or disadvantaged in some way, but thankfully it doesn’t seem to have been a big issue.  We do what we can to be open and to make connection with their friends, families and school, to break down the fear that drives homophobia.

Our son came to us a few years ago and teasingly said “mums, I have something to tell you. I’m sorry, but I think I like girls”. We all had a great laugh.  It’s been a great adventure, but thankfully much has changed.