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By Harriet Leigh, Head of HospitalityISSUE #025 WE RISE TOGETHER | Community

Why Celebrating Diversity Matters

It’s an immense feeling of pride for all of us at Archie Rose to support Mardi Gras: this wonderful, glittering, global event. Despite borders remaining closed and the benching of the traditional parade, the sentiment of celebration of diversity is still strong across Sydney.

This is an International event, despite the fact that it takes place in Sydney. One of my favourite participants of the parade in recent years was the Sistergirls—a group of transgender women who travelled 4000 kilometres from the Tiwi Islands to Sydney to take their place alongside gay boys who travelled the slightly shorter distance from Surry Hills, Sydney. This year we may not enjoy meeting the usual influx of international visitors, escaping the northern winter and reclining on our pristine beaches before dancing the night away alongside locals in Darlinghurst. But this is still a major global event. People will join us online, all around the world.

In Sydney rainbow flags are being hoisted, gloriously, above Sydney Town Hall, painted in parks, displayed across homes, businesses and bars. This year the main celebration, the Parade, has to be COVID safe—and so has ingeniously moved to a seated event in the SCG. While people watch on screen (socially distanced) in bars, and in their homes (in groups up to 30), they’re still celebrating and bursting with pride. Mardi Gras is one of the few truly national, joyful, annual celebrations.

Mardi Gras has a particularly special place in my heart. I moved to Sydney on 5th March 2000, two days before Mardi Gras—I hadn’t chosen the date by accident. I was a wide-eyed, closeted 20 year-old. I was ready for the big smoke, and ready to come out. I stayed with my uncle who lived just off Oxford Street. On my first night I told him I was gay, something I wouldn’t manage to tell my parents for another four years. My beautiful, straight, uncle Paul took me drinking down Oxford Street—back when every other business on the strip was a late-night venue full to the brim of people of all persuasions, dancing together until dawn.

Two days after I arrived I watched the parade with that same uncle, terrified but excited—pinching myself that I was HERE, and most certainly queer, but so were all of these other people. It was ok to be me. I got a brand-new haircut, a new pair of shoes, and set about making a new life for myself. A year later I was living in a warehouse in Surry Hills, working at the iconic Hotel Hollywood under the equally iconic, fabulous owner Dorris Goddard, who died two years ago, aged 91. The Hotel Hollywood was, and is still, managed by out, proud, and brilliant publican Mark Symons. He gladly gave me the night off for Mardi Gras 2001 so I could dance in the actual parade itself. I have so much to thank them both for—Mark for being a brilliant gay man living without shame, and Dorris loving everyone as long as they were fabulous and had good manners, long before being an ally was de rigueur.

What a difference a year made in my new home, no longer on the sidelines. I finally had an actual home, and a real community that belonged to me. Every year at Mardi Gras, I have a quiet word in my head, congratulating myself on another anniversary in the best and gayest city in the world. I raise a little toast to the world’s most beautiful city; my beloved home. It’s a moment just for me, and it happens every Mardi Gras as I revel in the acceptance and unequivocal love. Moving here was by far the greatest decision of my life, followed by accepting a job at Archie Rose only slightly lower down the list.

For straight people, it might be hard to understand just why this moment matters so much. But it’s impossible to explain unless you already understand just how devastating the shame around coming out can be for gay people, it can be a visceral self-hatred—it certainly was for me. I vividly remember saying to myself “I’d love a gay brother, why does it have to be a gay me?” Thanks to Mardi Gras, once a year I remember we’re loved, we’re part of something so much bigger, a real community.

Though there are still reminders that this acceptance and love isn’t universal. When the same-sex plebiscite was happening I had to endure the conversation everywhere I went, for months. I’d get into an Uber and the driver would be listening to some shock-jock bemoan the perversions of gays. I’d overhear conversations in restaurants with people saying things like, “Why do they need to kick up a song and dance over it? Why do they need to use the word ‘married?’” And at the end of the ordeal, when the vote was only slimy 61% yes, we were left with the realisation that almost 40% of the population regard us as less than, so much so that they could be bothered filling out a form, finding a post box and returning a love-denouncing “No”. Someone even wrote “NO” in the sky, like god herself rejected us.

The same old arguments people had about gay people 20 years ago are now being rehashed about trans people. "Should they be allowed to use bathrooms? Should they be allowed to play sports? Should we acknowledge them at all?" It’s a stark reminder that acceptance, let alone tolerance, is still a ways away. While Mardi Gras is no longer just a fight, it started off as a fight for rights. A fight for the right to not be beaten or imprisoned simply for finding love or lust. A fight to be allowed to simply be. For the ‘78ers (the original protestors from 1978, and the true originators of this powerful movement declaring the right to love in Australia) to the young teenagers coming of age now—this day is special. This day says, “You do you, just do it in the most you way that you possibly can.”

Archie Rose head of hospitality Harriet Leigh

As an LGBTQI+ member of the Archie Rose team, and someone who has dreamt of sponsoring Mardi Gras for years, I’m particularly excited to be bringing some local spirit to this parade. For the first time in its history, Mardi Gras is being sponsored by an Australian spirits brand and a Sydney-based one at that. We’ve collaborated with Mardi Gras on a limited twin set of bottled cocktails—Ex On The Beach and Big Daddy, playfully paying homage to our community’s diversity. The figures, beautifully drawn by artist Ashley Ronning, dance under mirror balls (currently illegal) and frolic on the beach (thankfully allowed). With these scenes, it was our intention to say “This is what we love about our queer city.” We may not have got it right for everyone—but we’ve certainly celebrated a large chunk of our community. I cannot wait to drink a Big Daddy at the SCG with a large portion of the Archie Rose team (some of us still have to work—sorry folks, but thanks for covering your mates so we can get the night off).

I asked a couple of the younger members of the team how they felt about sponsoring Mardi Gras. Riahne, our marvellous experience host in the bar (whose gin sessions are a must see) said, “To know that my company and co-workers not only accept, but actively support and celebrate my identity has been such a liberating experience for me—I feel so much more comfortable in myself knowing that the people I spend most of my time with have my back.”

Bartender Mariel said, “I’ve always felt comfortable and accepted working here. I never had to come out to anyone. Archie Rose sponsoring Mardi Gras this year is a testament to our great work environment and a celebration of all the great individuals in our company. Hopefully we can inspire other organisations to be the same way, as well as other people out there to just be themselves.”

These young people fill me with pride, I’m so proud of their work, their passion and their dedication. But I’m especially proud of Archie Rose for taking us all on the ride. This article isn’t a brand spiel, but it’s hard not to gush with pride: I’m so proud of our company in the way we approach life. Two days after Mardi Gras it’s International Women’s Day (IWD). It’s a small token but a powerful day—a day to acknowledge women, which within the distillation industry is particularly important. Distillers boast a pitiful 5% of women, while women within the industry as a whole only make up 15%. At Archie Rose we’re still behind with 40% female employees and only 15% female distillers. It’s not a role women commonly consider, and we need to change that. It’s a great job for women, it’s about palate and balance and patience. All things women are naturally pretty good at.

IWD in no way should take away from men, who also have an international day of acknowledgement: November 19. That’s an appropriate time for us to pause and reflect on the appalling rates of male suicide, poor societal support and mental health support for men. But March 8 is about women. Which is why we’ve come up with a program of female speakers, foremost in their field, talking about their areas of expertise.

In-house we have Riahne (of the above Mardi Gras quote joy) hosting two special Gin Sessions for International Women’s Day. Riahne’s Gin Sessions are an absolute delight—and to mark the occasion they will be talking about women’s specific contribution to this universal spirit (hint: we invented it). On the same day our Experience Host Jami will be hosting a Gin Blending Class—drawing upon the enormous power of women’s creativity throughout history while also helping you make two of your very own gin blends.

We are also immensely proud that Lisa, one of our brilliant and tireless distilling team will be speaking about her personal journey through spirits. She’ll have some exception drams on pour, including the world’s first taste of a new spirit that’s come to life inside our Banksmeadow distillery. It’s currently flowing out of our new magnificent stills, and no one has publicly tasted it.

On March 9 we are hosting a brilliant panel of women working towards a sustainable future. From science and industry, Dr Lucy Buxton joins us from the Climate Change Cluster at UTS, bringing her insight into how industry is meeting this new frontier. Joining her on a municipal level is the brilliant City of Sydney Councillor Jess Miller. Jess is a tireless advocate for our city—we met when we joined forces on the obliteration of plastic straws in Sydney. She has more capacity for thoughtful change than anyone I’ve ever met. And lastly is long time friend and collaborator of Archie Rose, Alex Elliott-Howery, founder of Cornersmith—famous for their brilliant and engaging classes in waste reduction (most famously pickling). Alex will bring a domestic angle to the proceedings. All of these brilliant people will be hosted by our head of marketing Tori Tulloch. Tori is just the best, she mentors the whole company as well as many other women in the wider world. To find out why, book a ticket