The Road To Sydney WorldPride
The really short version of this article is “Oxford St”. The longer version is millions of stories from across the globe. Stories of pride, and a refusal to bow to shame.
As gin partner to Mardi Gras, and this year Sydney WorldPride, we’re immensely proud to be a part of that legacy, even in a very small way. Our partnership has been a massive source of joy and pride for all members of our team, regardless of their sexual orientation. I’ve genuinely loved watching the straight members of our team revel in the glory and unabashed celebration that is Mardi Gras. There are few, if any, other events in the social calendar that are so purely about having a great communal love fest.
It’s difficult but important to remember that it hasn’t always been this way. Especially when we’re living in a time in which people are more frequently feeling empowered to question those rights - questions many of us thought were relegated to the past. It’s caused me to reflect back to the dawn of Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras started in Sydney in 1978. It was hot on the high heels of other movements happening around the world. In America, in the summer of love, the police raided the Stonewall Inn late one night. Instead of accepting being corralled and beaten, people fought back. It wasn’t isolated, it was part of a social change that was rushing across the country. With a backdrop of wider civil rights, anger had been building for some time. Anger about injustice, about the Vietnam war, the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. The voice that screamed “enough” was sparked by fury. The riots spilled out onto the streets of Greenwich Village, and they didn’t stop that night. They carried on for days, and in the aftermath, gay people started organising. Demanding the right to be accepted, or at least tolerated. That demand for tolerance was spreading around the world, as fast as ideas can.
Two men I often think of are Peter “Bon” Bonsall-Boone and his partner Peter De Waal. In an act so brave, and so brazen, they appeared together in 1972, openly, on the ABC documentary ‘Chequerboard’. They showed the country their home, their relationship, and in one fleeting and sweet moment, a tiny peck on the lips. It’s just so benign and simple to watch it now (and if you haven’t you really must). Bon was fired from his job within days. They faced an almost universal public backlash. That didn’t stop them, which in itself is miraculous. They started “Phone a friend”, installing a phone in their spare room and started Australia’s first LBGT+ phone counselling service. They started CAMP, the campaign against moral persecution. And a little later, in 1978, they took part in a march. A march for rights that took to the streets, Oxford Street in particular. It was a small gang of people with such incredible bravery it really makes my mind boggle, would I have had the nerve? It was held in June, on the 9th anniversary of Stonewall. Around 500 people gathered in the daylight and said “we’re here and we’re queer, get used to it”. That evening someone had organised a flatbed truck, and they played protest songs while dancing at Taylor Square. The police surrounded them, 53 people were arrested and countless others were beaten. A year later some 3,000 people had decided to keep the momentum going - and joined the parade. It hasn’t looked back ever since, it’s grown, year after year. It’s moved to a hotter time of year (we have our outfits to think of), and this year it will be the largest version of itself yet as Sydney hosts WorldPride - the Gay Olympics. WorldPride is a roaming parade, every two years it pops up in a different global city. Like the Olympics, it is won by campaign, and like the Olympics, Sydney seduced the international panel of judges with her beautiful coves. And it’s also projected to be the largest global event hosted in Sydney since those incredible Olympics in 2000.
We’ve come a long way in this emerald city. From a deeply homophobic community that shunned gay people, to a city so full of them most people have forgotten it hasn’t always been this way. In the heart has always been Oxford Street. In its heyday it was full to the brim of dancing queers, and in its nadir, during the lockout laws, this bastion of hedonism was a ghost town. But it’s coming back, bars and clubs are reopening, and once a year - we flock from all corners of the globe to dance on podiums and under mirror balls, once again proclaiming “we’re here, we’re queer” even if people have largely got used to it.
In November 2017 we also congregated at Taylor Square on Oxford Street, just shy of 40 years after that flatbed truck, and danced as the referendum announced that we had finally won the right to marry our partners. We danced down Oxford St, the wrong way, to Hyde Park. Someone had made a speaker rig on wheels - I danced behind it, to Madonna, just as it should be.
Bon and Peter never got married. In 2015 Bon was diagnosed with cancer. In 2017 they wrote to PM Malcolm Turnbull, begging him to move more quickly on marriage equality. A short time later some of Bon’s last words were “it looks like we missed the boat”. He died in May. Only four months before the marriage plebiscite began. If it was anyone else I would say that I was glad he was spared the ordeal. But Bon was clearly not a man who shied from a fight, not a day in his life. I wish he had got to dance the other way down Oxford St. It was one of the best days of my life. I wish 50 years after they met Bon and Peter got the chance to do what so many dream of - to get to officially say “I love this person, they’re mine and I’m theirs”. It’s so simple, it’s so full of joy, I cannot fathom why people wouldn’t want that for everyone.
When we launched our collaborative lube together with LBDO last week there were some people who didn’t love it. Someone said “interesting you associate Pride with lube”. And I understand the movement that says this isn’t about sex, I admire it. But I absolutely do associate Pride with sex. It was sex between men that the English ‘Buggery Act’ of 1533 outlawed. It is sex, the simple, primal act of sex, that was outlawed for over four hundred years in England. And it was sex, or even sharing a kiss, that has seen LGBT+ people lose their jobs and their lives globally throughout history, depending on the prevailing fashion of the time. We still live in a world where billions are not allowed to participate in something as joyous as Mardi Gras, and we live in a world in which people still debate whether that is right. So when we considered a collaborative lube we thought long and hard (sorry). We really loved the way LBDO prioritises sustainable sourcing, and we had a meeting of minds around pleasure as a baseline for a great life, whether that's through safe, inclusive, sex or a great cocktail. So making a lube together to celebrate an event as celebratory as WorldPride felt like a great fit (there I go again). It's also worth noting that we're an over 18 drinks brand. We're for adults. We're for adult conversations, out in the open, beaming with pride, laughing about fruit shaped like genitalia. It's sexy, it's summer, we're flirting with you, and we're flirting with the world. Welcome to Sydney! We're so glad you’re here; we brought the lube.
So as long as what you’re doing is consensual, it’s none of our business. Regardless of your sexuality, you can have sex at the same age as everyone else, and when you find the person with whom you want to do it exclusively, forever, you can marry them. I hope you’ll be pouring Archie Rose at your wedding. Whatever your sexuality or gender, it’s your right, enshrined in law.