Sydney Queer Irish bringing the tricolour to Mardi Gras
80 Irish are preparing to march through Sydney in city’s 40th annual LGBTQ parade
Sydney Queer Irish marchers at the 2017 Mardi Gras.
This Saturday, I will join 80 strong Sydney Queer Irish (SQI) community members to proudly march (more accurately, dance) up Oxford Street in Sydney for the 40th Mardi Gras parade.
This year, Australia is reflecting on the origins of the Mardi Gras parade. Forty years since the first march in 1978 was met with unexpected police violence, this Mardi Gras parade aims to celebrate the community’s struggles and triumphs, and the evolution of Mardi Gras.
SQI, too, will remember our own LGBT journey at home in Ireland over the past 40 years.
I am the president and founding member of SQI, an organisation emerging from late night conversations in my kitchen with a group of friends who wanted to create a social support network for Irish expats and those with Irish ancestry who also identify as LGBT, queer or just left of centre.
I am of Irish-born parents, from Mayo and Galway. I lived in Clonbur, Co Galway until I was six. We emigrated to Australia in the 1980s. Since then I have spent years going back and forth, living in both Ireland and Australia, and feel patriotic for both my home countries. But Ireland will always be “home” for me, and I have a huge community in Co Galway.
Settled in Sydney (for now), I feel very proud to be an Irish gay woman, and love to connect with the Irish community. As a result, in a suburb in Sydney’s inner west, SQI was formed in 2010.
SQI has been a saving grace for me and many other expats from Ireland who have joined us over the years. Whether your stay in Australia is long, short, permanent or fleeting, SQI offers a home away from home for the Irish LGBT community.
We are also very proud of the connection we have made with other Irish community groups in Sydney, and grateful for the support of the Consulate General of Ireland, whose ongoing assistance is invaluable.
We are an active group throughout the year, hosting various social meets ups - everything from picnics, to quiz nights and boat parties. Last year we also supported the Australian Marriage Equality movement, and I am particularly proud of our contribution to this successful, community-driven campaign.
By far, SQI’s biggest event of the year is our celebrated Mardi Gras entry. To build an award-winning float takes months of planning and preparation. In the days leading up to the parade, members are making last minute touches to costumes and props, doing final choreography rehearsals, all while holding down day jobs. Every year we are oversubscribed with eager float applicants, with some people flying from Ireland and interstate.
This year’s Mardi Gras theme is “Evolution”, and our entry celebrates Ireland’s road to equality over the past four decades. Our small island has embraced love, equality, modernity and LGBT rights, while still celebrating our rich history, tradition and culture.
In remembering our much-loved Dolores O’ Riordan, The Cranberries’ track ‘Dreams’ helps us celebrate our Irish pride and brings together a choreographed group with a mix of traditional and modern dance.
Our costumes and props will showcase the Irish tri-colours of green, white and gold, with each section representing a decade over the past 40 years. The green marchers, with their shoulder-pads ready for battle, represent the first LGBT protests in the 1970s and the foundation of the Irish Gay Rights movement. Our winged white marchers pay tribute to those impacted by HIV/Aids in our community in the 1980s and beyond, and the various Irish gay organisations who formed Gay Health Action (GHA) in response to the crisis. The gold section, in their flower covered broken chains, represents the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1990s.
Sounds like a lot of work? It is! It’s also a huge amount of fun among the Irish community and friends. It’s about this time of year, a few days before the parade as planning is in full-swing, that I say, “never again!” But predictably, by Saturday night when it all comes together, cheered on by a roaring crowd, I’ll already be thinking how to grow Sydney Queer Irish and planning for next year’s Mardi Gras.