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Thousands gather to celebrate 44th anniversary of first Mardi Gras


At least 1000 people gathered outside Sydney Opera House on Friday to celebrate how far the city has come since the first Mardi Gras march 44 years ago.

On June 24, 1978, Sydney answered San Francisco’s call for a show of solidarity against the Briggs Initiative, a Californian ballot measure wanting to prevent queer people and supporters from teaching at schools.

After a day of marches and meetings, a small crowd braved the winter chill to gather in Taylor Square. By 11pm, they had grown in number and in merriment, chanting “Glad to be Gay” and “Ode to a Gym Teacher” as they marched Sydney’s streets. Despite issuing a valid permit to the protest, NSW police attempted to shut the march down, arresting many and charging 53 at Darlinghurst police station.

The morning march of the of the 1978 Mardi Gras Gay Solidarity Group protests in Sydney.

The morning march of the of the 1978 Mardi Gras Gay Solidarity Group protests in Sydney.Credit:Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

March organiser Ken Davis said the police attack only made the group more determined to persist.

“You could hear them in Darlinghurst police station being beaten up and crying out from pain. The night had gone from nerve-racking to exhilarating to traumatic, all in the space of a few hours.”

With legal assistance from the Council for Civil Liberties, they fought the charges in court as police continued to arrest more than 100 protesters who continued to rebel by sustained marches.

A Mardi gras marcher being arrested on June 24, 1978.

A Mardi gras marcher being arrested on June 24, 1978. Credit:Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Most of the charges against the libertarians were eventually dropped, though not all. The NSW Summary Offences Act, which gave police unbridled powers to arrest people, was repealed in May 1979.

This masthead published the names, occupations and addresses of those arrested. Many were outed and others lost jobs, accommodation and relationships with family members. That decision was deemed a “stain” on the Herald’s record in a formal apology by former editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir in 2016.

Despite the trauma of it all, that cold Saturday in June unlocked a revolution celebrated as Mardi Gras 44 years later.

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