Just like Vegas, in the gay world everything gets bigger, brighter and more fabulous as the years go on. The Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras started as a protest march in 1978, a bunch of brave homosexuals marched the streets in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Fifty-four of those people were arrested and named and shamed in the newspapers after the police fought with protestors to break-up the event.
Today, the Mardi Gras is less about politics and more of a celebration of diversity, a chance for people of all ages, sexuality and race to exert their pride in a glorious stream of colour, dance, floats and music.
Not content with just one event to mark the historic occasion, the Mardi Gras now goes on for a month. Some say it’s like the Gay Thanksgiving, except the celebration goes for 30 days, with Christmas Day being the parade. Already half-over, but with the best to come, you are still able to enjoy the festival in Sydney, one of the gayest cities in the world.
Every year there is a new theme to honour the event. This year the committee have chosen, “Say Something”. At first I thought it sounded like an anti-terrorism alert, but no, it turns out Say Something is a message to everyone to speak up and have your voice heard. It’s a simple call to action that says it’s about time the queer voice was heard and issues of equality and civil rights were questioned.
This might sound like the Mardi Gras is getting back to its grass roots but you can interpret it in any way you want. Maybe it means you should come out to your parents, your boss, your girlfriend… just don’t do it while they’re driving, I learnt that the hard way. Or maybe it just means you should say something to that boy/girl you’ve just spotted at one of Sydney’s finest gay establishments.
So, where to find your Mardi Gras summer homo-romance? Well there are plenty of places, you just have to know where to look, but be careful – with Sydney’s metrosexual-looking blokes and P!nk-loving tomboy girls you can be mistaken for meeting the queer of your dreams and then meeting their heterosexual other half.
For the boys, your best bet is on the rainbow mile that is Oxford St. Any night of the week there are places to party. Stonewall is free weeknights, with drag acts Monday, karaoke Tuesday and plenty of colourful disco anthems pumping from three floors every other night of the week.
The Colombian Hotel is full of bankers and lawyers and young pretty boys who want to meet them, and offers a more relaxed drinking area for those who want conversation too. Palms on the other hand is like the school disco gone camp – cheesy pop music from musical divas and lots of sweaty heavy-petting on the underground dancefloor.
For the scene queen there is Nevermind, a hot little club with plenty of eye-candy, muscle and little body-hair. The antidote to Nevermind is The Midnight Shift, where the bears come out late at night, chest hair and leathers a-blazing.
For girls there isn’t as much choice in venues, but the concentration of dykes makes mating season easier, right? Head to Newtown and any day of the week be swarmed with latte-loving-lesbians.
The best night to hook up is Wednesdays at the Bank Hotel on King St. Pick yourself up anything from a lipstick-loving lesbo to a toolbelt-toting tomboy. The really energetic ones finish their night at the Sly Fox Hotel further down on Enmore Road for drag king acts, pool playing, dancing and plenty of beer-swilling.
For the entrepreneurial lesbian, there is a meet and greet-style cocktail event every Friday night at Slide on Oxford St called Lemon’s With a Twist. Wear a name badge, eat some canapés and walk out with either a business card, or a woman in your pocket.
But the gays aren’t just about drinking and hooking up. For the sober, otherwise-taken or just culturally inclined, there is always the arts. From the Mardi Gras Film Festival to countless other theatre performances, there is plenty to keep the mind stimulated. There is stand-up comedy at Fox Studios, with the best gay comedians performing at Mardi Ha. A cabaret called Wonderland, that takes Alice in Wonderland and turns it into a rainbow tale of a gay man and his fag-hag, at Slide. Or a great debate at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville with heavy topics such as ‘Muff Diving vs Platform Diving’. They are all running until early March. Check out the Mardi Gras website for more information. (www.mardigras.org.au)
But if you only attend one event, let it be the parade. You won’t be disappointed. It kicks off at 8pm in Hyde Park with the 200 or so Dykes on Bykes who lead the chain of political, sexy, humorous and exotic visual delights along Oxford Street. The vibe is electric so get there early, find a milk crate to stand on and cheer your lungs out.
Due to a bureaucratic bungle last year, the parade and after-party were on separate weekends. This year the organisers have got it right, because as they say, like Charles and Camilla, they’re meant to be together. So, Saturday 5 March is the big day. Have your glitter or your hot pants or your leathers, or whatever it is that makes you feel fabulous ready, it’s going to be a night to remember. Look out for the big gay celebs who make it out to Sydney for the event.
At this stage their names are under wraps, but last year saw some of the heavyweight queer icons hit our shores – George Michael, Adam Lambert, Kelly Rowland to name a few. Every year Kylie Minogue is rumoured to be performing. In reality she never does, but the gays don’t lose hope. Every year they pray for a Gay Christmas miracle…
ROXY BOURDILLON, meanwhile, has the lowdown on the rest of Oz…
Sydney isn’t the only Aussie city with a thriving gay community. Melbourne boasts its own excellent, though more elusive scene. Venues are more dotted about than in Sydney, but they’re worth the hunt. South Yarra’s Commercial Road is the closest thing Melbourne has to a gay district. Also try Fitzroy, Prahran and East St Kilda.
Apart from Mardi Gras, the main gay festivals are Melbourne’s Midsumma, held for three weeks in January, and Adelaide’s Feast, which kicks off in October. Both are crammed with arts events and parties meaning you can get cultured before you get blathered.
Brisbane’s gaytown is Fortitude Valley, brilliant for a trashy night out. The clubs here tend to have topless male bar staff, regular drag shows and gangs of territorial lesbians congregating round the pool table. The scene outside Sydney and Melbourne can sometimes feel like a time capsule from the early 90s but as long as you embrace it you will have a hilarious and fun-filled night out.
Byron Bay and Noosa are other gay getaway favourites because of their relaxed, accepting vibe and swoon-worthy beaches. There are also a number of gay holiday resorts in Queensland worth checking out. Turtle Cove in particular is paradise in a parallel universe with nothing but sun, sea and queers as far
as the eye can see.
As for the rest of Australia, be warned that in small towns you can encounter small-minded people and an abundance of scary, starey locals. Having said that, there are other rural areas with large and prominent gay populations.
In the Northern Territory’s Alice Springs there are more lesbians per capita than anywhere else in the country.
Also, surprisingly full of gays is Maryborough in Queensland. I did my fruit-picking there on a gay nudist farm.
All in all, if you’re a gay traveller there are few places more welcoming than Australia. Sure you still encounter the odd idiotic homophobe, but it’s easy to ignore them when you’re busy being fabulous.