Mardi Gras — then and now.
It’s timely that Disney’s ABC Studios has just produced the series When We Rise, which features Australian actors Rachel Griffiths and Guy Pearce. This eight-hour series documents the gay liberation movement in America, crossing over with several other resistance movements from the late 60s and early 70s. Almost 50 years later, with Sydney’s Mardi Gras celebration just around the corner, we’re again being called to #resist on numerous fronts.
The call to #resist
In New York, it was the Stonewall Riots of 1969. In Sydney, it was the anniversary of those same riots in 1978. The rise of Australia’s gay activism was greeted with brutality by the representatives of a then very ignorant society, one that couldn’t – or didn’t want to – understand.
Long before the floats, fantasies and pride of today’s march along Oxford Street, the ‘78ers’ marched in defiance. Without the throngs of cheering onlookers to spur them on, they had the courage to publicly say they’d had enough. At the end of their march on 23 June, however, there was no party. Instead, as one of the marchers and organisers, Ken Davis recalls:
“You could hear them in Darlinghurst police station being beaten up and crying out from pain. The night had gone from nerve-wracking to exhilarating to traumatic all in the space of a few hours. The police attack made us more determined to run Mardi Gras the next year.” 1
For sure, in 2017 many things have changed. However, homosexuals – to use that ‘endearing’ twentieth-century term – are still not recognised equally under the law in Australia. We still have a federal government that believes everyone else should decide whether or not LGBTQI people have the same rights as they do. There’s something about the title of the two films below that says it all after a fashion…
In a world where we continue to struggle with issues of colour, religion and gender, this is perhaps no surprise. Recent events in the U.S. highlight a resurgence in ignorance – a ‘grassroots’ desire for the way things were in the miraculous 1950s when ‘appliances ruled the world’. Well, at least the frigidaire seemed to rule the kitchen, that room where the good wife was duty bound to spend her day when not at the store or the hairdresser.
It’s the same grassroots ignorance that allowed AIDs to become the crisis it was in America, no small thanks to then president Ronald Reagan. Thankfully, in the 1980s, we were a little more progressive, in fact a leader in our response:
“Australia…was exceptional in that there was some unity across the political spectrum, led by then health minister Neil Blewett who realised that HIV could not be addressed without the direct input of those most affected by it…” 2 Check out a great ABC documentary on the Australian response to the AIDS epidemic.
April 5 this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Grim Reaper Advertisement across Australian television. If you’ve never seen it, as Molly would say – ‘click the link’, or something like that… It’s perhaps not surprising we were so proactive back in the 1980s. When Number 96 began ‘way back’ in 1972, it was the first TV show in the world to feature a regular gay character, Don Finlayson, played by Lebanese Australian actor Joe Hasham.
“One of the architects of Australia’s response to HIV, Bill Bowtell” is quoted as saying people were “stunned by the ad”… “[it] created a great deal of demand for information. He believes Australia did much better at containing HIV… giving people frank and factual information about how to protect themselves.” 3
Treatment for HIV has changed radically over time, with Ending HIV by 2020 a serious prospect. Supported by the introduction of government trials of PREP, we’re at least still dealing with the health issues on a sensible level.
While you’re celebrating Mardi Gras, and just how far we’ve come, let’s never forget the collective history and struggle that’s gone before. In particular, those who stood up for us when others would not. It’s also a reminder that the fight for equality continues, one in which we all have a role to play. It’s high time we put Australia back in the lead, rather than rapidly going backwards with its stance on gay marriage – Happy Mardi Gras!
Featured: Mardi Gras © Geoff Jaeger, 2013
Story Image 1: When We Rise via dailymotion.com
Story Image 2: Castro © Geoff Jaeger, 2011
As part of the Sydney Rides Festival, Canvas Bar is showing an exhibition of amateur photography by some of Sydney’s cyclists : 04 –23 October.
Installed by GkJE, this marks GkJE Galleries move from Sydney’s CBD – stay tuned for more!
Graphic provided by Sydney Rides Festival
Blog image: “Ollie 17 Yrs” © Emma Leslie, from Transcend: Portraits of Transgender and Gender Diverse Youth – one of two exhibitions opening as part of The Art of Gender, 1 September 6-8pm at Canvas Bar
The exhibition features work by Emma and painter Robyn Ross. In her documentary exhibition, Emma showcases 10 transgender children aged 5-17 in an environment in which they feel comfortable.
Emma’s documentary work has been published by the BBC and Buzzfeed. The BBC article follows up to discuss the complex circumstances that create our gender, an interesting read. One of Emma’s subjects was also the subject of Australian Story’s About A Girl, which aired in August this year.
Artist Robyn Ross explores depictions of femininity in her show The Female Gaze – an ironic take on the male gaze, and ideals of the feminine in art. More about Robyn’s work in an upcoming blog. (Image below: “Top Hat and Tails” © Robyn Ross)
Perry Lane Goes Abstract
GkJE has worked with Woollahra Council to create a placemaking event to transform Perry Lane into a place for people and activities: turf, tables, chairs, umbrellas and a giant snakes and ladders board will be in place between 12-4pm on Saturday 14 May.
The event will coincide with Head On Photo Festival exhibitions in the Paddington Reservoir on the other side of Oxford Street. The clever people at Head On have organised a Photobook Swap between 12-4pm. Join us in the laneway for a fun afternoon of coffee, photos, books and more.
Head On Photo Festival is the leading photography festival in Australia. This annual festival is run by Head On Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, promoting the work of photographers at all stages of their careers; encouraging excellence and innovation, making photography accessible to all and raising awareness of important issues through photography.
The 24 Hour Project is a global street photography project that documents the human condition in multiple cities across a single 24-hour period.
As part of Art Month, GkJE 1 is featuring a two-part exhibition of selected images from last year’s event – taken on 21 March 2015 – chosen from 2030 photographers in 650 cities, representing 101 countries.
Join us for the opening of Part II this Tuesday, 15 March : 6-8PM
(Image “Intent”- Melbourne, Australia — 3.19am : 21 March 2015)
The GkJE 1 Loco Project is open 24 hours for external viewing and at selected times* as a walk-through until 20 March.
This year the 24 Hour Project is coming together to help rescue and rehabilitate human trafficking survivors. The She Has Hope goal is to restore these survivors to a life full of hope.
By participating in the 24 Hour Project we hope you can help us spread the word about the importance of helping human trafficking survivors.
Image: The Power of Red © aliveinnyc
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60-64 Macleay Street
Potts Point – Sydney, Australia
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Internal Walk Through
Wed – Thu – Fri : 5-8PM
Saturdays : 9am – 1pm / 5-8pm**
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