So how did Mardi Gras reach this iconic status? The ironic thing is that one of the key reasons for its success was the huge opposition it faced when it began. The first march took place on Saturday 24th June 1978 at 10pm and it was met with unexpected police violence. What begun as a political demonstration for gay rights, and a desire for greater visibility in the community, has become through a huge effort from the Sydney Homosexual community, a tourist festival and queer culture celebration.
The Stonewall Riots of 1969
While many people are aware of the first march on the 24th of June in 1978, few people realise that this date was the 9th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in America. The Stonewall Riot took place in New York, on the 28th June 1969 when New York City police officers launched a ‘routine’ raid on the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village Gay Bar. The bar’s customers took a stand and fought back, clashing with police and causing a riot. The Stonewall riot came to represent a new movement of open defiance of the heteronormative society.
At this time, in Sydney, homosexuals experienced cultural invisibility and legal discrimination. It is hard to believe at the time that, in Australia, consenting sexual relations were criminalised and policed. This first march in Sydney, 9 years later, was not only a means of the homosexual community remembering and commemorative the Stone wall riots, it was a time to stand up for against harassment in Sydney and Australia.