More than 12,000 people marched through Oxford Street this weekend at the 38th annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, drawing some 500,000 spectators.
Not connected to the Catholic holiday, Sydney’s Mardi Gras has its origins, like Pride festivals in America, in an act of violence: In 1978, participants in a sanctioned demonstration were beaten and arrested by police.
Almost four decades later, LGBT rights have grabbed the spotlight again, now that England, Ireland and the U.S. all have marriage equality. The issue has become as divisive Down Under as it is in the States—the current Conservative government wants to kick the issue down the road to at least 2017.
So while Saturday’s event was an unabashed celebration, it was also a protest.
“My mums, they really want to get married and they can’t in Australia, and I reckon that’s really unfair for them,” young Mackenzee Ogden told Australia’s ABC.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was steadfastly opposed to marriage equality, but his successor, Malcolm Turnbull, became the first sitting PM to attend Mardi Gras.
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) March 5, 2016
“The hard work and commitment of Sydney’s LGBTQI community has seen this event grow to a festival drawing visitors to Sydney from around the world,” said Turnbull, who had previously attended as a Conservative MP.
“However, we cannot forget the history of Mardi Gras and the ongoing need to promote inclusion and deliver equality for all Australians.”
— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) March 6, 2016
Opposition leader Bill Shorten did march, saying he was “delighted to be attending Mardi Gras with my wife Chloe, our kids, and my Labor party colleagues to show our support for marriage equality.”
— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) March 5, 2016
Shorten pledged that, if elected, a Labor government would introduce a marriage-equality bill into Parliament within its first 100 days.
Saturday’s big event was preceded by weeks of theater, art exhibits and panels exploring queer life, as well as a film festival, Fair Day and a drag-queen race at Bondi Beach.
Attendees included Sydney mayor Clover Moore, longtime activist Ron Austin, Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe, rugby pro Ian Roberts, Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst and RuPaul’s Drag Race star Courtney Act, who returned to be the parade’s global ambassador.
Watch a live stream of the parade below.
More photos from the 38th annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.