Sydney shines for annual Mardi Gras parade

Sydney shines for annual Mardi Gras parade

From drag queens to footballers, thousands of Australians celebrated Sydney's gay and lesbian Mardi Gras on Saturday, with same-sex marriage and ending homophobia in sport key themes of the glittering street spectacle.

The 38th annual parade, which grew out of a political protest in 1978, attracts thousands of participants each year while thousands more line the streets to watch the colourful spectacle.

This year is the first since the New South Wales Parliament apologised for the way those who took part in the 1978 protest were treated - including being arrested and beaten - and the balmy weather saw crowds flock to Darlinghurst.

"I think it's a wonderful event in the life of Sydney, and I'm delighted to be here," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said ahead of the parade, adding later he was proud to be the first sitting prime minister to watch the Mardi Gras.

The parade set off in early evening, with Oxford Street awash with glitter, rainbow flags and sequins, with more than 170 floats taking part in the street show.

But parade producer Anthony Russell said the event carried a greater meaning for many.

"It's much more than that. It's a really good voice for everyone that wants to have one in the community - in the LGBTIQ community and beyond," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"It's a very important part of the rich tapestry of Sydney." Many watching the parade were supporters of same-sex marriage, among them Jade Singh and Kirralee Bennett, both 18, who said they were in attendance to show their support.

"They (the government) should legalise gay marriage. Everyone has the right to love no matter what gender," Singh told AFP.

And for the first time, Australian Olympians and Paralympians were to have their own Mardi Gras float, in an effort to raise awareness about diversity in sport.

Led by gold medal swimmer Daniel Kowalski, the #OneTeam float was designed to send the message that Australia's athletes wanted sports free of homophobia.

"This week, for the very first time we march in support for inclusiveness, acceptance without discrimination and diversity," Kowalski said ahead of the parade.

The National Rugby League backed another float - complete with goal posts and astro-turf - to convey the same message.

"There are so many people struggling with this issue that if a game like ours can say that it's okay to be the person you are, then maybe we can improve their well-being and hopefully reduce the rates of suicide and self-harm," said former player Paul Langmack.

On a more political note, the "No Pride in Detention" float highlighted the plight of two gay refugees now living on the Pacific island of Nauru where Australia sends asylum-seekers who arrive by boat.

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