Mardi Gras was Sydney’s contribution to the international Gay Solidarity Celebrations, an event that had grown up as a result of the Stonewall riots in New York. Mardi Gras was one of a series of events by the Gay Solidarity Group to promote the forthcoming National Homosexual Conference, and offer support to San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day and its campaign against California State Senator John Brigg’s attempts to stop gay rights supporters teaching in schools. It was also intended to protest the Australian visit of homophobic Festival of Light campaigner Mary Whitehouse.
"Several hundred gays, lesbians and straight supporters – some in fancy dress and some simply rugged up against the cold – gathered at Taylor Square and followed a truck with a small music and sound system down Oxford Street to Hyde Park. As revellers joined in along Oxford St, the police harrassed the lead float along the route and when the march stopped in Hyde Park, where telegrams of support were to be read, police confiscated the lead float truck and arrested the driver Lance Gowland. Angered by this, 1500 revellers diverted up William St to Darlinghurst Road, where the police had closed the road. At this point the police swooped and violently arrested 53 men and women, many of whom were beaten in cells. Over the months that followed more protests and arrests took place and the actions of the police came to be seen as heavy handed.
"By April in 1979 the parliament of New South Wales repealed the NSW Summary Offences Act legislation that had allowed the arrests to be made and created a new Public Assemblies Act which meant that Sydneysiders no longer had to apply for a permit to have a demonstration. They simply needed to inform the police. As such that first Mardi Gras march was a major civil rights milestone beyond the gay community. Up to 3,000 people marched in an incident-free parade in 1979."
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