Mardi Gras 2021: What we can learn from each other

2 March 2021
Students share how their LGBTIQ+ lived experience has helped them grow
With the 2021 Mardi Gras parade to be held on Saturday 6 March, we spoke with three current students about the most important lessons they have learned throughout their lived experiences, and the significance of Mardi Gras as an opportunity for growth as well as a celebration.
Elizabeth Li celebrates Mardi Gras

Elizabeth Li celebrating Mardi Gras with her friends

Being part of the LGBTIQ+ community is an experience which can shape an individual for life. With the University’s 2021 Mardi Gras theme being ‘Knowledge = Growth’, it’s an ideal time for members of the Queer community to reflect on the most important things they’ve learned as Queer-identifying people.

Excitement is high for Mardi Gras 2021 and this year there is even more reason to celebrate, especially after the challenges of 2020. 

‘I commenced my studies in 2020 when we were all physically separated. I'm looking forward to celebrating Mardi Gras together with my fellow students and staff', says Michael McGibbon, studying post-graduate Sustainability. Originally from rural Queensland, Michael spent time in Perth and London before settling in Sydney.

‘Working together, we can show that the University of Sydney is inclusive, welcoming, and knows how to celebrate!’

For Vivan Sanghvi, a Master of Architecture student from India, being part of the  celebration symbolises the liberation of finding a chosen community.

‘I arrived in Sydney in 2020 and within two weeks, I was told by someone to visit the Mardi Gras Festival. I went for it and it was by far the best experience of my life. I knew I had to be a part of it next year, so here I am! I’m excited to meet people from my community, people who want to have fun, learning about different personalities and not being judged about who I am.’

For others, being part of the celebration is as much about others as it is about themselves.

‘One thing that I'm most excited about is that one of my best friends who just proudly came out is joining me at this year's USyd Mardi Gras entry. And I believe his participation does mean a lot to me and to the community as well. Events and movements like this really make an impact, encouraging more and more people to be brave and be proud of themselves,’ says Elizabeth Li. Originally from Chengdu, China, Elizabeth moved to Sydney as a teenager and is now undertaking a Bachelor of Science degree here at Sydney.

Sometimes you need help, and it's ok to ask for it. Sometimes you're able to offer help. Sometimes, you just need to dance your way across the SCG!
Michael McGibbon
Michael McGibbon rehearsing for the 2021 Mardi Gras parade

Michael McGibbon rehearses for the 2021 Mardi Gras parade, along with his Sydney Uni co-stars

For Vivan, Mardi Gras is about rejecting traditional expectations of what a person should be and allowing yourself to find a community in which you’re comfortable expressing yourself.

‘I've been a professional dancer all my life, starting at age five and I still dance today. Early on, there were certain aspects of me that people felt were ‘too feminine,' and I was bullied for that my entire school life. However, I decided to change that. I stood up for myself, read about the experiences of other people from the community and tried to impart the same knowledge to my friends. I've realised one thing in this journey: only when we stop caring about what people think about us, will we be truly free and be ourselves!'

Elizabeth’s experience in the Queer community has given her new perspectives in many other areas of life.

‘The most important thing I've learnt is that knowledge breaks down barriers, and I think our theme Knowledge = Growth is the perfect way to explain it. For me, knowledge not only promotes growth in my personal development academically but also brings me a higher vision. A higher vision means more acceptance, understanding and empathy, and less divergence, biases and discrimination.'

Of course, one’s journey as Queer-person will often be defined by those you share it with, and chances to celebrate this with your chosen family shouldn’t be passed up. As Michael puts it:

‘Be it with a friend, a partner, or an ally, a Queer life is a journey best shared. Sometimes you need help, and it's ok to ask for it. Sometimes you're able to offer help. Sometimes, you just need to dance your way across the SCG!’

The meaning of this beautiful festival is not to party and get drunk. It's a chance to meet new people, experience their individual personalities and be comfortable in your skin.
Vivan Sanghvi
Vivan Sanghvi in a vineyard

Vivan Sanghvi is enjoying his newfound freedom to express his true self

While to many Mardi Gras may just seem to be an excuse for outlandish outfits and wild parties, to our students taking part in the festivities it means so much more – and they hope they can help bring these messages to the public.

‘The meaning of this beautiful festival is not to party and get drunk. It's a chance to meet new people, experience their individual personalities and be comfortable in your skin.’ Says Vivan.

Michael hopes that everyone who sees the parade this year can find something to relate to.

‘Mardi Gras is a celebration for everybody. Every culture, race, religion, age, gender, sexuality and ability. My hope is that people will see something of themselves in the parade and in doing so know that they themselves are also worthy of being celebrated.’

Elizabeth had similar sentiments, explaining that while Mardi Gras is a celebration of freedom of expression, it also serves as a reminder that there are still many voices out there waiting to be heard.

‘One of the misconceptions people hold against Mardi Gras is that only "gay people" go to Mardi Gras, which is 100% not true. I love Mardi Gras for its inclusiveness, and most importantly, people forget that there are still so many voices that remain unheard around us,' Elizabeth said.

‘I believe Mardi Gras provides an excellent platform where we can speak up and fight for those who can't, regardless of our backgrounds. So, stand up and speak out whenever you can, not just for you or for the community, but also for your loved ones and those who love you, because your support MATTERS.’

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