Malcolm Turnbull Becomes First Prime Minister To Attend Sydney Gay Mardi Gras

"We cannot forget... the ongoing need to promote inclusion and deliver equality for all Australians."

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.

XXX during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.

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.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Parade Goers dance during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

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.

“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.”

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.”

Shorten pledged that, if elected, a Labor government would introduce a marriage-equality bill into Parliament within its first 100 days.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Parade Goers dance during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

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.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05: Conchita Wurst poses during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05: Ian Roberts dances during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

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.

Happy Mardi Gras!!! @sjdbrydon @anthonystephensofficial @jakeresnicow

A post shared by Courtney Act (@courtneyact) on

Watch a live stream of the parade below.
 

 
More photos from the 38th annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Real Housewives of Melbourne star, Gamble Breaux at Mardi Gras on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Ripity Split/GC Images)
XXX during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.
XXX during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.
XXX during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Parade Goers dance during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Parade Goers dance during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05: Dikes in Bikes are seen during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Parade Goers dance during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Parade Goers dance during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Parade Goers protest during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05: Former NRL players, Jason King, Dan Hunt and Wendell Sailor dance on the NRL float during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Parade Goers dance during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  People show their support during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05: Anthony Albanese marches during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05: Ron Austin rides in a car during the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Parade goers prepare for the start of the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  Parade goers prepare for the start of the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05:  A parade goer poses prior to the start of the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on March 5, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Mardi Gras parade began in 1978 as a march and commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of New York. It is an annual event promoting awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and themes.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery