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“I didn’t know there were gay Aboriginals!”

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“I didn’t know there were gay Aboriginals!”

That title’s a quote from an unnamed woman in the crowd at the 1987 Sydney Gay Mardi Gras.

A year later, things would be very different, as Malcolm Cole helmed the inaugural First Nations float to take part in the newly renamed Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. In a nod to the Bicentennary happening that year, Malcolm as dressed as a festive Captain Cook, flanked by a black Joseph Banks and other sailors, in a “ship” pulled by white men. His quote to the Sydney Morning Herald at the time is often repeated: “It is enough trouble being black, let alone gay. That is why I am determined to put this float in the Mardi Gras.”

Of course, Indigenous Australians have been part of the parade since the beginning. In 1978, when the first-ever march was hit by police violence that saw 53 participants arrested and many more bashed, there were Aboriginal people there in support. Some, like Chris Burke, took part in the march itself while others saw protestors being attacked by police in Kings Cross and jumped in to defend them.

Between then and now, Indigenous participation in the annual event grew – first in a casual way, back when anyone could jump into the parade, then more formally with Malcolm’s float. For an interesting and cool timeline of how it happened, complete with pictures, check out this site.

Creating Equality: Step by Step is the title of this year’s First Nations float, which is sponsored by the Aboriginal Project at ACON.  Inspired by the Whitney Houston song,  producer Mish Sparks told SBS, “It’s not just a great song to dance to, if you listen to the lyrics, they really tell a story about overcoming adversity, perseverance, resilience, strength and not giving up until and that’s a really good theme song for us. We build on our wins, we keep working towards where we need to be in terms of education, health, work opportunities and all the other areas where there should be equality.”

Beyond the parade, there are a number of events aimed at providing “a vibrant showcase of unique First Peoples culture and community”, under the umbrella name of Koori Gras. There’s a historical exhibition, a night of black drag performances (and DJs), and a communal table set up for people to meet and hang out.

Hopefully that unnamed woman from 1987 pops in to see how things have changed!

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