Sydney’s Version Of Stonewall Comes To Life As TV Movie “Riot” Recounts Gay Struggle In Australia

"It's a story that should be told," says star Damon Herriman of the first Sydney Mardi Gras.

Australia’s path to LGBT equality has its own touchstones and watershed moments. It even has its own version of the Stonewall Riots: On June 24, 1978, a demonstration commemorating the anniversary of Stonewall turned violent as protestors were dispersed by police and dozens were arrested, despite the fact that they had permission.

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Though most charges were dropped almost immediately, some of the accused were beaten in their cells, and The Sydney Morning Herald published the names of the arrested in full the following day.

Many were outed to family and friends, harassed in their neighborhoods, and even fired from their jobs.

Fairfax Media

Airing last night on Australia’s ABC, Riot recounts that first Mardi Gras, with Damon Herriman (Justified) playing Lance Gowland, a staunch LGBT activist and one of Sydney Mardi Gras’ founders.

“I don’t think too many people know what the first [march] was like and how did it start,” Herriman told, “It was obviously very different to what it is now. But it’s a story that should be told.”

The cast and crew, he added, felt “a little bit of weight on our shoulders to make sure we do this right.”

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Riot comes nearly exactly a year after When We Rise similarly charted the evolution of the LGBT rights movement in the United States. But the new telefilm has even more significance, coming just as Australia enjoys its first months of marriage equality.

“It could never be more relevant than now,” says ABC’s Head of Scripted Production, Sally Riley, “to tell this story of identity, courage and love as a marginalized community finds its voice and rises up to fight oppression and injustice.”

Riot/Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Herriman admits Australia’s national postal vote on marriage equality was very much on the cast’s minds.

“We knew when this show came out that there was a very good chance that the parliament would have voted and no one really knew which way it was going to go. But we knew it would certainly give the viewing of this film an extra resonance.”

The 40th anniversary Sydney Gay Mardi Gras Parade will be Saturday, March 3, with Cher announced as the headlining performer.

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.