Today, Saturday March 4, 12,000 people from Australia and around the world identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ) will be proudly participating in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras street parade.
And like millions of Sydneysiders of both these and other sexual persuasions I’ll be watching them with a mixture of particular pleasure and pride.
Pleasure in the fun the marchers will be having showing off the fabulous floats and costumes they traditionally create to dress – or undress – in for the occasion, and pride in being part of a community that doesn’t just tolerate individual difference, but outright celebrates it.
And then there’s the feeling of achievement that comes from seeing that society can change for the better, recalling as I so vividly do that the Australia in which I grew up was so disrespectful of difference that when the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras started in 1978 it was a march of protest against the homophobia that was rampant back then.
Not, of course, that homo- or other phobias are entirely extinct in even this comparatively enlightened year of 2017, or in this comparatively enlightened country of Australia.
As recognised by the theme of this year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, ‘Creating Equality,’ there is still a very long way to go before we achiever the organisers’ stated aim of ensuring that ‘everyone is treated fairly and equally – and no-one is discriminated against for their sexuality, sex, gender identity, race, beliefs, age or abilities.’
Many of my fellow Australians are as bigoted, racist, sexist and religionist as ever.
In fact the most extreme example of this deplorable reality is the subject of a story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.
‘Neil Prakash, Australia’s most infamous Islamic State recruit,’ the story begins, ‘strode the streets of the Iraqi city of Mosul with four bodyguards and acted as supervisor for the terror group’s medieval punishments.’
Punishments overseen by Prakash, the Melbourne-born son of Fijian and Cambodian parents, reportedly included public beheadings, stoning and whippings conducted in Mosul’s main Bab al-Toub Square, and the throwing of people accused of homosexuality from the top of the 10-storey Orizdy building on one side of the Square.
Such atrocities are, of course, as anathema to the vast majority of Muslims as to the adherents of other religions or to agnostics like myself.
As also, I imagine, or at least hope, are such attitudes as that expressed by state executive councillor Mohamed Fadzli Hassan of Kelantan in his recent announcement of his government’s intention to stage a public-caning demonstration in support of the PAS – or, as I think of it, PUS – party’s push for hudud in Malaysia.
Lest I start to appear unfairly islamophobic here, however, let me make the point that I’m strongly if not violently opposed to all religions whose ‘believers’ consider that as long as they pray to some divinity or another they have a right to prey on other people.
As witnessed in the shocking numbers of Catholic and other Christian clergy that have been revealed as predators on the children in their congregations, and other self-styled ‘conservative’ Christians in right-wing racist, religionist political organisations like Australia’s One Nation and the Christian Democratic Party.
Founder and leader of the Christian Democratic Party, the Reverend Fred Nile, is as ferocious an opponent of homosexuality and thus of the Sydney Mardi Gras as almost any mufti or other be-robed cleric of any religion could possibly be.
An observation that brings me to the point that it’s impossible to avoid noticing that clerics of all major religions and significant numbers of the participants in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras have in common: cross-dressing.
But, paradoxically, priests, monks, muftis, mullahs, archbishops, popes and whatever try and dignify the fact that they’re decked-out in dresses by trying to pass them off as robes, habits, cassocks, vestments or other such euphemisms, most seem opposed, if not outright frocking hostile, to good, honest trannies and others who cross-dress for fun.
Just one more reason why, if I had the choice between watching or joining some religious procession in support or praise of some alleged divinity, or grooving along with the gang at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, I’d go for the latter, any day.