‘Partying with a purpose’: WorldPride is heading to Sydney next year – here’s what to expect | LGBTQ+ rights

EElectropop artist Charli XCX and enduring singer Kylie Minogue will headline Sydney’s WorldPride celebrations next year. The gathering marks the southern hemisphere debut of the international sports and cultural festival that celebrates all things LGBTQ+.

WorldPride was first celebrated in Rome in 2000 – to combat opposition from Pope John Paul II and the Vatican – and has taken place roughly every six years, in London, Jerusalem and New York. It is now a biannual, month-long event where LGBTQ pride spreads across a city’s space. After Sydney, WorldPride will become annual, heading to Washington DC and Amsterdam in 2025 and 2026.

Alongside Sydney WorldPride parties and concerts, there will also be a new understated and thoughtful aspect to the 2023 festival, which coincides with and incorporates the city’s famous annual Mardi Gras celebrations, in what the co-creative directors of the event Ben Graetz and Daniel Clarke describes as “partying with a purpose”.

The experiences of First Nations LGBTQ+ people will take center stage at Sydney WorldPride, while a centerpiece of the festival will be a three-day conference on human rights, with speakers from around the world including Yanzi Peng, who exposed the Chinese practice of government-ordered gay conversion practices and Ukrainian LGBTQ+ and women’s rights activist Olena Shevchenko.

“We have to remember that in over 60 countries, being LGBTQ is still punishable by law,” says Graetz, a descendant of Torres Strait Islander and Northern Territory Iwaidja and Malak-Malak clans.

“We still have a big fight for equality ahead of us, but also, in this country, there’s still a lot of inequality around First Nations issues – minorities within minorities, and if you’re a sistagirl, you are a minority within a minority within a minority. So we have a lot of battles in our own country…there are shows that will be political, ensuring visibility and demanding conversations.

Indigenous Sistagirls from the Tiwi Islands at Mardi Gras in Sydney in 2017. Photography: Zak Kaczmarek/Getty Images

Priority to First Nations

Graez believes it was the emphasis on First Nations involvement and recognition of the older gay community who fought for human rights in Australia in the 1970s that was instrumental in securing Sydney’s winning bid, when the city defeated major competitors Montreal and Houston.

Among the contingent that traveled to Athens in 2019 to secure Sydney’s bid were drag queen Gadigal Nana Miss Koori and one of the original ’78ers’, Robyn Kennedy, who was arrested during the June 24, 1978 demonstration in Oxford Street – Sydney’s historically gay district – organized in recognition of the Stonewall Riots. Kennedy told his story of the arrests and the resulting public shaming of attendees, who held crushed eucalyptus leaves during a welcome ceremony that reminded the international gathering that Australia is home to continuing culture. oldest in the world.

The spotlighting of First Nations and Pasifika cultures is a first for WorldPride, which has previously only been held in the northern hemisphere. An additional 500,000 overseas attendees are expected to swell the annual influx of tourists arriving for Sydney Mardi Gras in February each year; Qantas is adding additional flights to its Sydney/Los Angeles route to meet the expected increase in American tourists.

Marri Madung Butbut (Many Brave Hearts), a First Nations gathering space, presents a six-day showcase of Indigenous queer creativity at Redfern’s Carriageworks. And the popular Sissy Ball competitive party, a Sydney regular led by Kilia Pahulu, a Fakaleitī artist – member of Tonga’s transgender community, will be held at Sydney Town Hall.

WorldPride 2023 will coincide with and incorporate Sydney's famous annual Mardi Gras celebrations.
WorldPride 2023 will coincide with and incorporate Sydney’s famous annual Mardi Gras celebrations. Photography: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Canadian company Mammalian Driving Reflex will present the Australian premiere of All the Sex I’ve Ever Had, a production that persuades LGBTQ+ people over 65 to talk about their real-life sexual experiences. There is also the Coming Back Out Salon, an evening targeting the over 65s hosted by Robyn Archer, Deborah Cheetham and Paul Capsis.

Celebrations and Pride

Held in conjunction with Sydney’s annual Mardi Gras festivities, however, the party atmosphere remains unstoppable. Among the more than 300 WorldPride events is a major street party which will close Oxford Street for two days, while Crown and Albion streets in Surry Hills will be converted into a Pride Village party area for the whole month .

Jessica Mauboy will headline alongside Charli XCX and Minogue at the WorldPride opening concert, an all-day electro party will take over Bondi Beach, and Sydney Town Hall will host a dance party entirely led by of women, Ultra Violet, headlined by Canadian queer musician Peaches.

Sport is also a key element of WorldPride: there will be a roller derby tournament, the gay boxing world championships and competitions in football, tennis, martial arts, squash and golf.

A Pride march is expected to involve thousands of pedestrians crossing Sydney Harbor Bridge, while the parade and post-party Oxford Street Mardi Gras, now in its 45th year, will return after years of cancellations and restrictions due to Covid-19.

Sponsorship partner City of Sydney and the local business community are counting on the month-long festivities to breathe new life into Oxford Street, after the online shopping trend shuttered many of the precinct’s flagship stores and that lockdown laws have hampered its vibrant nightlife.

“The story of what happened on this street remains very important,” Graetz said.

“I moved to Sydney in 1996 and Oxford Street changed my life. I remember feeling such a sense of belonging for the first time. As a young queer boy from Darwin, I saw my community for the first time and it changed my life, I was able to feel at home, I felt like I belonged.

James C. Tibbs