2. Who organized the first Mardi Gras?

The gay and lesbian radicals wanted to restructure society and organised reading groups and a conference to discuss capitalism and the family; lesbian feminism and socialism; ideology and psychoanalysis; lesbians and male homosexuals in the class struggle; working with non-socialist lesbians and homosexual men; working with the working-class; men and the anti-patriarchal struggle; sexual objectification; relations with other oppressed minorities; sources of lesbian and male homosexual oppression; therapy; separatism and homosexual chauvinism (Red & Lavender No 1 1976).

A lot of these people believed their sexuality was their essential identity – and central to their struggles. They saw themselves as oppressed and vulnerable. They saw themselves as stereotyped, invisible, appropriated, violated, exploited, marginalized and powerless. Rather than accepting the mainstream’s scripts about their inferiority, they wanted to transform their sense of self and community. They were demanding recognition and respect “in spite of” their difference – and respect for themselves as different. They argued that

The fight against the oppression of homosexuals is an essential part of all revolutionary activity waged against patriarchy and capitalism. Sexist ideology and sexist institutions, particularly the family and the schools, provide a vital bastion for a society whose ruling class derives wealth and power from wage-labour and the unpaid labour of women. Homosexuals break up the divided roles of the sexes – the dominance of men and the submissiveness of women (Red & Lavender No 5 1977).

These were the people planned the Day of International Gay Solidarity (DIGS) to address local injustices, support Californian gay activists and commemorate the legendary Stonewall Riots. They planned a morning demonstration, afternoon talks and an evening ‘procession’ for Saturday 24 June 1978.

A poster advertising a march, public meeting and a “festival” was plastered around Sydney in June 1978
© Chris Jones

Some of the organizers were with the CAMP Political Action Group and most people called themselves socialists or communists. But if they had radical critiques of society, their morning parade was demonstrating against police attacks, anti-homosexual laws and discrimination. The main banner read ’Gay Solidarity Group, Repeal All Homosexual Laws, End Police Harassment Of Homosexuals’ and the parade targeted the George Street shoppers (while sending messages to Macquarie Street).

The evening ‘street party’ had one specific objective. It was encouraging homosexuals to join the political movement. It had amplified music, fancy dress, painted faces and dancing. They were chanting ‘out of the bars and onto the streets’. The truck used the morning’s banner but a couple of people brought their own signs. The sub-committee wanted to broaden the gay liberation movement’s appeal to the kids who partied on Oxford Street. Kym Skinner, for example, saw it as a sugar-coated political event and Peter Murphy felt ‘it fitted into a bigger discussion in the Communist Party about doing things in new ways, doing things that people enjoy, don’t be taking actions which are too demanding of people’. They believed that ‘coming out’ was a political act.

Authors: Gavin Harris and John Witte.

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