The UK singer, who came out as non-binary last year, will headline Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to be held on Saturday, February 29.
This year marks 42 years since a march down Oxford Street in Darlinghurst turned into a riot.
When the group reached Kings Cross, they were set upon by police with scores arrested and thrown into cells overnight. Many were outed without their consent and lost jobs or were disowned by family and friends.
Today, Mardi Gras is a visual riot of colour, fireworks, mind-boggling costumes and floats, dance parties, debates, soirees and drinking on a school night. Kings Cross has even been rechristened “Queens Cross” for the occasion.
But what’s known now as “gay Christmas” all stems back from that demonstration in 1978 to push for gay equality.
If you’re one of the half a million locals and visitors planning on heading to Mardi Gras 2020, here’s what you need to know.
WHEN DOES MARDI GRAS HAPPEN?
It’s on right now. Many think Mardi Gras is just the parade but it’s actually a multi-week festival of theatre, film, art, clubbing and embroidery workshops. Yep, embroidery workshops. (Read further down for some details on Mardi Gras fringe events).
But the big day is Saturday, February 29. This is when the parade marches through Sydney’s streets and the huge after-party takes place.
SHOULD I HEAD TO PARADE?
Absolutely. It’s the beating heart of Mardi Gras and is a protest and a celebration, as well as one of the world’s largest night time parades. More than 500,000 people are expected to watch 12,500 participants in 200 floats stream by.
You can also star spot, with Cher and Kylie Minogue popping up in recent years.
The fun officially begins at 7pm when the Dykes on Bikes rev their way down the route.
One of the first floats is always the ’78ers – veterans from the first demonstration – so give them a cheer. And these days, the NSW Police are also part of the parade.
HOW TO DO MARDI GRAS PARADE PROPERLY
With a lot of people squeezing along the route, you’ll want to do some planning.
The parade begins at the Hyde Park end of Oxford St and heads via Taylor Square and Flinders St to Moore Park where the after-party is held.
Everyone flocks to Oxford St so it fills up fast. Get there early or head towards the Moore Park end of the route as crowds can be thinner away from the main strip.
There are a number of official viewing areas where you can pay to get a seat. See Mardi Gras for details.
Roads close to traffic from 4.30pm, and from 7pm you won’t be able to cross the parade route at all. Parking is a nightmare – don’t even think about it.
Museum station, the closest to Oxford St, shuts at 5pm. Use Central, St James or Town Hall stations instead, or get the L2 light rail to Moore Park. See Transport for NSW for full information.
Loos are available along the route – don’t use someone’s doorway. The parade is also an alcohol-free zone. But bring liquids and snacks as it can be a long evening. Food trucks will be set up.
WHAT ABOUT THE AFTER-PARTY?
The after-party is epic. It’s spread across multiple venues in the Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park where you can experience everything from hardcore dance to pop and bellowing drag queens. It’s also sold out.
But fear not, there are plenty of other options. All Sydney’s big gay bars will be having a huge night in Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. Or head to the Imperial in Erskineville in the inner west, the home of Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert. There are also plenty of club nights.
CAN I JUST WATCH FROM HOME INSTEAD?
If braving the crowds all seems like hard work, you can watch the entire parade on SBS instead. The TV coverage will be hosted by comedian Joel Creasey, Studio 10 presenter Narelda Jacobs, drag icon Courtney Act and comedian Zoë Coombs Marr.
Watch it live on SBS TV or On Demand on Saturday night; it’s then repeated on SBS Viceland the next day.
WHO ARE THE BIG NAMES COMING?
Big names always head to Mardi Gras and Sam Smith is top of the list this year.
In a video message, Smith said it was exciting to be headlining the event.
“Mardi Gras is one of the highlights of my career,” Smith said from Los Angeles when his appearance was announced.
“Australia has meant so much to me as a queer person and I cannot wait to be with you all after such a challenging time so hopefully we can spread love, sing and dance.”
Joining Smith will be Dua Lipa and pop star Kesha.
They’ll be at the party but they may also pop up on parade and elsewhere in Sydney. Keep an eye out.
WHAT CAN I DO BEFORE THE BIG DAY?
Mardi Gras is a feast of events that often get overlooked by the parade and party. There’s loads more to do.
The Queer Screen Mardi Gras Film Festival takes place until Thursday, February 27 in the CBD and Newtown and showcases the best of Australian and oversees LGBTI big screen entertainment.
If you fancy some culture, Queer Art After Hours on Wednesday, February 26 will see a drag queen play the role of tour guide at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Dig in, there’s a whole festival of theatre and comedy shows.
WHAT IF I’M STILL RARING TO GO THE DAY AFTER MARDI GRAS?
The partying continues at Laneway where the iconic Beresford Hotel in Surry Hills and the streets around are taken over for a DJ debrief session well into the evening. You can count on just about every other pub in the neighbourhood also being heaving if Laneway is full.
IS KINGS CROSS REALLY BECOMING QUEENS CROSS?
Yes, for a few days anyway. The area just to the north of Darlinghurst has one of the biggest LGBTI populations in the world. And it’s full of bars and restaurants that will be hoping to attract some Mardi Gars visitors.
It was actually named Queens Cross in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
A joint initiative by Wayside Chapel and the Potts Point Partnership will see the suburb take on its former moniker, reported The Daily Telegraph.
The change from a king to a queen is to highlight that it was the location for the riot that led to the Mardi Gras we all know today.
For more on the festival, parade and party visit the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras website.