78ers show their pride

78ers show their pride

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The first Sydney Mardi Gras in 1978 was held on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. Photo: Sallie Colechin

The first Sydney Mardi Gras in 1978 was held on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. Photo: Sallie Colechin

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RAINBOWS, glitter and lots of pride: the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a big celebration for LGBTI people. And this year the parade marks a major milestone, celebrating four decades of love.

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RAINBOWS, glitter and lots of pride: the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a big celebration for LGBTI people.

And this year the parade marks a major milestone, celebrating four decades of love.

It has been a long journey to what today is a joyous event that attracts everyone from politicians to community groups and members of the NSW Police Force.

Sallie Colechin is a 78er, someone who was at the original parade 40 years ago.

The first march, on June 24, 1978, was held to commemorate the Stonewall riots in New York the previous year.

A 20-year-old Sallie helped organise the day, which included a morning rally, talks, and an evening march through inner Sydney that encouraged people to celebrate who they were.

About 500 people and one float left from Darlinghurst's Taylor Square and the numbers soon swelled to close to 1000.

Sallie said the day was meant to be peaceful, but soon turned violent.

"We had a permit that allowed us to disband at Hyde Park," she said.

Sallie's role was to sit on the back of the truck and make sure one of two songs kept playing.

"I was not uncomfortable when I saw the police initially," she said.

This changed when the truck was forcibly stopped and police tried to evict the driver, Lance Gowland. A group of women intervened, allowing Lance to get away.

"I could hear police radioing for backup. Two different people in the crowd yelled 'to the Cross'."

Arriving King's Cross, Sallie witnessed a violent clash between police and marchers.

"It was mayhem in the Cross. Everything happened so quickly. It was very loud, very violent and frightening."

More than 50 people were arrested under the Summary Offences Act, which was repealed the following year and replaced by the new Public Assemblies Act, which permitted demonstrations provided police were informed.

Sallie avoided arrest after her partner at the time held her back from an altercation.

"A group of us stayed outside Darlinghurst Police Station all night as a vigil," she said.

"We could hear someone being bashed, who we later found out was Peter Murphy."

March organisers rallied to raise bail money and the last person was released by mid-morning the following day.

Over the next three days, The Sydney Morning Herald published the names, addresses and occupations of all those arrested.
Much has changed in the four decades since that march.

Homosexuality is now legal, with the last laws banning it repealed by Tasmania in 1997.

In February 2016, The Sydney Morning Herald then editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir apologised to the 78ers for hurt and damage caused by the newspaper's 1978 report, explaining the publication had been following the custom and practice of the day.

And in December last year, federal parliament legalised same-sex marriage following a postal plebiscite where 62 per cent of respondents, close to eight million people, voted in favour of change.

"It's a small stepping stone for acceptance in the broader community," Sallie said. "I think there is still a long way to go, particularly in rural areas and outer suburbs."

This year, the 78ers will be the second float in the Mardi Gras parade, behind a float honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

For Sallie the parade is always an emotional experience.

"I always put my hand on my heart. It takes me back."

  • The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade is on March 3. A procession of more than 200 groups and floats will make its way down Oxford Street from 7pm.

www.mardigras.org.au

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