The 2019 Sydney Mardi-Gras. Pic: Jeffrey Feng.

Festivals, News & Commentary

Sydney in the running for World Pride event

Sydney’s pitch to host World Pride in 2023 — the first Southern Hemisphere edition of the global event — will be decided within days as it looks to trump impressive rival bids from Montreal and Houston.

A decision is expected at this month’s annual meeting in Athens of InterPride, the international umbrella group for pride events around the world.

Sydney Mardi Gras co-chairman Kate Wickett admits that the harbour city is the underdog, but says “[Australia] does underdog quite well and we’ve been closing the gap since [March].”  

The group has been rallying support from pride organisations across Australia encouraging them to join the organisation so they can vote and be put on the global map. The bid was kickstarted early on by a $200,000 contribution form the NSW Government, consolidating local political support. 

InterPride requires four compulsory events for a World Pride; an opening and closing ceremony, a pride march and a human rights conference. The latter would be an addition to Mardi Gras’ pre-existing Queer Thinking event, which hosts debates and discussions surrounding LGBTIQ+ issues. 

The Sydney 2023 proposal is to merge the World Pride program seamlessly with Mardi Gras’ two-week program.

Sydney Mardi Gras co-chairman Kate Wickett. Pic: supplied.

Dubbed by some as the ‘gay olympics’, World Pride, which was first held in Rome in 2000, has yet to branch outside Europe and North America. That fact is being seen as an advantage by Mardi Gras organisers who have  placed it at the forefront of their bid — a ‘regional approach’ on behalf of the Asia-Pacific where LGBTIQ+ people still face widespread discrimination. 

“One thing that strikes me when I travel [to various Prides] is the lack of information they have about particular LGBTIQ+ issues that are in this region,” Wickett says. “So, we really think that we can incorporate some of these [or] shine a light on them.” 

The backers believe it makes for a compelling case for an inaugural Oceanic World Pride, one that reiterates the importance of looking beyond Western queerness while bestowing a regional responsibility on Australia to set an example. 

Mardi Gras hopes to expand its record of including neighbouring communities and organisations in its annual program, such as Sydney-based community group Selamat Datang GLBTIQ, the Fa’afafine from the Pacific Islands and the Sistagirls from the Tiwi Islands, as a means of translating the event into one that wholly represents the region. 

Another strong basis for the bid is Mardi Gras’ established stature as a world-class pride event with unique characteristics. 

“In comparison to other marches it’s at night time and it’s heavily curated so that people are on message or have something to collectively design,” Wickett explains. “We know that we’re able to produce an event of a [World Pride] magnitude on time and we certainly have the infrastructure and support to do that.” 

“I get a lot of questions around corporate involvement and my response is that Mardi Gras is not for profit — we need to have money to exist and to put on the various events, but also what we do is we reinvest back into the community.”

Consultants have estimated that combined with Mardi Gras’ organic growth, a Sydney 2023 World Pride would draw up to 1.3 million visitors, activating celebrations not just within the CBD but throughout greater Sydney and regional NSW, even interstate. 

Mardi Gras started out in 1978 as a protest in response to anti-homosexual laws and police harrassment, while also commemorating New York’s Stonewall riots nine years earlier. 

The march, which ended with  multiple arrests and police brutality, became a catalyst for the repealing of anti-gay laws as well as  a national benchmark for queer activism. 

In the following decades, the parade has overcome political opposition as well as  bankruptcy to establish itself as a national landmark. Mardi Gras’ piece de resistance, the parade, has grown into a full-blown spectacular showcasing a range of communities, causes and organisations, followed  by an enormous afterparty at Hordern Pavilion with gay-icon headliners such as Cher and Kylie Minogue.

While Sydney’s bid has faced minimal backlash, Mardi Gras is frequently checked by organisations such as Pride In Protest, a group pushing for the march to restore its activist roots and condemn its increasing corporatisation along with the participation of police and conservartive politicians. The push echoes a discourse surrounding pride events worldwide; at this year’s World Pride in New York, a counter ‘Queer Liberation March’ was held in protest of the event’s commercialisation. 

Wickett acknowledges that corporate sponsorship and involvement are the basis of frequent conversations with members of the community. “I get a lot of questions around corporate involvement and my response is that Mardi Gras is not for profit — we need to have money to exist and to put on the various events, but also what we do is we reinvest back into the community.” 

She points to the “value-based” criteria sponsors must meet, particularly in relation to how they treat their LGBTIQ+ employees, and that many corporations are rejected by the board.

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