14. What impact did Mardi Gras ’78 have on Sydney’s gay and lesbian life?

The Mardi Gras exposed the hatred and distrust that Sydney’s gay and lesbian factions had for each other. Frank Wells, who wrote for Campaign, was appalled by the infighting and tried to project an image of a unified community. Peter Langford believed that the parade had provoked the police. He thought CAMP was incompetent and claimed GSG was promoting its Marxist agenda. Another man deplored the ‘badly dressed’ feminists and GSG’s claim that gay rights had anything to do with Aborigines, socialism, women and police brutality. In this climate, CAMP’s executive set up Gayfed to speak for ‘ordinary homosexuals’. At the same time a ‘think gay, buy gay’ lobby was challenging the ‘pro-socialist and pro-feminist’ faction.

First issue of the Sydney Star, later the Sydney Star Observer.
© Sydney Star

And when GSG was organizing a follow-up parade in ’79, The Sydney Star Observer tried to stop it, saying that it would help the police arrest more people and claim that GSG had provoked them.

However, a year later the organizing committee invited the independent bar owners (as against those who had links to organized crime) to come onboard. The first social groups joined the parade in ’81 and regional and interstate groups were there by the mid-80s. The men’s hedonism and sexism alienated a lot of feminists and many rejoined the parades in the wake of the AIDS epidemic. More and more people felt they could join the parade.

Authors: Gavin Harris and John Witte.

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