WORDS OF INTRODUCTION
2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras, an anniversary that will take us back to 1978 when it all started.
1978 might have been the Year of the Homosexual but 2016 turned out to be the Year of the Apologies – from the Sydney Morning Herald, from the NSW parliament and from the NSW Police Force. 2016 also saw Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull become the first sitting Prime Minister to join revellers at that year’s Mardi Gras, and Bill Shorten, the Leader of the ALP, the first Leader of the federal Opposition to take part in the parade.
We have much to celebrate in Australia. NSW, at least according to Alex Greenwich (Sydney, Independent), has Australia's gayest parliament. That parliament has introduced a raft of reforms including
the Anti-Discrimination (Homosexual Vilification) Amendment Bill 1993, amending the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 to enact provisions relating to the vilification of homosexual persons,
the Property (Relationships) Legislation Amendment Act 1999 (No 4), amending the De Facto Relationships Act 1984 and other Acts to recognize same-sex couples,
the Relationships Register Act 2010, providing for the registration of de facto relationships including same-sex couples,
the Adoption Amendment (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2010 (No 2), amending the Adoption Act 2000 to enable same-sex couples to adopt children and to make related amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 and certain other legislation,
the Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2014, amending the Crimes Act 1900 in relation to the partial defence of provocation to a charge of murder and putting a stop to the ‘gay panic defence’, and
the Criminal Records Act 1991, providing for the expungement of some historical offences.
As we go about preparing to celebrate the fortieth anniversary we must remember we owe it to current and future generations to record accurately what happened on 24 and 25 June 1978. Sadly, some accounts of those two momentous days have misrepresented what happened, tending to reflect particular political agendas, political agendas that the overwhelming number of gay men and lesbians rejected in 1978 and continue to reject to this day.
Failure to properly contextualize Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras furthers historical revisionism, a revisionism that is also promoted by the oral history of some 78ers. The outcome is a distorted narrative where
a street so strongly out of favor with some activists emerges as a site of particular significance to them,
an apolitical street party undergoes a metamorphosis,
a street party is represented as another moment in a long-drawn out drama of gay men and lesbians ‘coming out’ and ‘coming together’,
an event proposed by a member of CAMP, christened by a member of CAMP and coordinated by a member of CAMP is brought back to life as a socialist stage show,
critics of the event are given a new lease of life as heroes, those central to the event marginalized,
the principle of collectivity is ditched for increased personal recognition,
bar patrons, so central to the success of the event, are sidelined,
the size and influence of some groups is overstated, all in the name of political correctness, and
the decision of revellers to head to Kings Cross is construed as a protest against the Summary Offences Act 1970.
We owe also a great debt to those who made Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras happen – Ron Austin who came up with the idea of a street party, Lance Gowland who practically single-handedly planned and organised the event and drove the lead truck and Marg McMann who christened the event.
Joseph Carmel Chetcuti