In the lead up to the Mardi Gras parade on 2 March, we caught up with three students to find out what Mardi Gras means to them.
Chaoqun (Dustin) is an international student from China and the student representative of the University’s Pride Network. This is the second year he'll be representing the University at Mardi Gras.
I came out just after marriage equality was legalised in the United States in 2015. That huge achievement helped me. Before that, I felt confused. I wondered if I was the only one who felt like this. When it was legalised in the States, I felt solidarity. These are people who are comfortable with their identities and fighting for their rights. I realised I wasn’t alone and what I was experiencing wasn’t strange – it’s normal. I wanted to accept myself.
In China, we don’t talk about sexuality. You just kind of ignore it, never talk about it, feel ashamed. There’s a traditional view of having a baby and getting married – that’s your life. I realised that there’s something wrong with the traditional view, that I’m not broken and maybe it's other people who need to change, not me. I started doing a lot of research – the more you know, the more comfortable you are. I wanted to contribute to society and help change preconceived notions about sexuality. And you can start by telling your friends. This is who I am. This is normal. We’re not going away. My sexuality doesn't affect anyone else but me.
When I told my parents, it took them a while to process. At first, they just didn’t want to talk about it. They pretended the conversation never happened and would subtly change the subject when I brought it up. That was hard. It meant that there’s a part of me that my parents couldn't accept. When I moved to Australia, they had time to think about it and have slowly been able to accept.
Mardi Gras has been going since 1978 – it's a rich history. From Stonewall to Mardi Gras to now – we can see people are still continuing to fight for what they should have. It represents the spirit of equality. For individuals, it’s a platform to get to know this community and feel the inclusivity and acceptance from the local community.
Before I came out, I always listened to my parents – I did what they asked me to do, tried to be who they wanted me to be. After I came out, I started to question that. I began to ask myself – what do I want to do? What career do I want? What are my values? My parents wanted me to choose finance or accounting as my major, but I decided to follow my gut and study technology and business. I choose subjects I’m interested in like philosophy, psychology and sociology. I’m not sure if I would have pursued that if I hadn’t had had the courage to come out. It changed me from who my parents expected me to become to who I wanted to become.
Lucy is a PhD candidate in the Department of Media and Communications and the online editor of Archer Magazine. This year is her fourth marching in the Mardi Gras parade.
During the marriage equality campaign, my dad sent me an email. It was a letter he’d written to the marriage equality website. He couldn’t find it online, but he said the most important person who should see it was me. He wrote about how grateful he’d felt that his 14-year-old daughter wasn’t bringing home boys and was more interested in soccer than dating. He wrote, she’s as in love with her partner as I am with mine. It was really sweet.
I grew up in Port Macquarie. All of my first year I hung out with my mates from Port Macquarie – I went to class and came home. I was detached from student life. Growing up in Port, there was no queer representation. I remember there were some kids in my school who had parents who were lesbians, but they were the ‘weird’ kids that got bullied, and their parents were kind of butch. At the time I thought it was scary. That’s not what a woman looks like, I thought, that’s gross. I was quite homophobic.
It wasn’t until the end of first year of uni when I met some friends who were cool lesbians. They were the first queer people I’d met that I felt I could relate to – that was the kind of watershed moment for me.
I went on exchange to England for a year and decided to just trial being out. I wanted to see what it felt like to tell people I’m gay and act like it had always been that way. I went to their O-Week and visited the LGBTIQ society stall. The guy I met there was super nonchalant and kind of off-putting. I thought to myself ‘I can’t do this.’ I was so keen to join the societies and get to know people, but I chickened out because I didn’t feel welcome. It was no-one’s fault, just my own insecurities. It was a process of figuring that out. By the time I got home, I felt much more confident about who I was. I marched up to the LGBTIQ stall at the Usyd O-Week and was just like, ‘Is this where I sign up?’.
When you’re gay, you’ve got this ready-made community. You know you’ll have stuff in common with the group – stuff that is more real than doing the same degree or having a vague interest in theatre. I met a lot of my close friends through a queer girl group I joined through the USU, and I’m still friends with some of the people from that group today.
The first year I marched in the parade was phenomenal. I remember we were walking to the train station in our costumes and people were tooting their car horns at us. Normally when people do this, they’re catcalling you, but this time people rolled down their windows and shouted, ‘Happy Mardi Gras’. It’s such a weird feeling to be walking down the street and have people cheer you for being gay. It’s very validating. It feels good to be celebrated, even if it’s just that one day of the year.
Anak (Ima) is a 24-year-old accounting student from Indonesia. She hasn't come out to her family yet. This is her first year marching in the parade.
There’s nothing like the Mardi Gras parade in my country [of Indonesia]. It’s a religious country and risky to talk about your sexuality. Here I feel free to express myself. People back home rely on stereotypes – they think that lesbians dress like boys. Some of my friends even catcall transgender people on the street. It's very confronting.
I’m bisexual. If people don’t know me, they wouldn’t realise that I belong in that group. I don’t dress a certain way or adhere to any stereotypes. If I’m speaking to someone who has really strict views, I keep my sexuality to myself. I know people who feel like they have to hide their identity, for fear of disappointing their families. I'm trying to figure it all out – is that what I want my life to be like?
When you don't feel 'normal', you feel guilty. You’re not the child your parents hoped for. You’ll be the joke of the family. At family gatherings, how many people will talk badly of you? It's hard being asked when you’re going to get married and not having anything to say to that.
I haven’t told my parents yet. Some of my friends know and have been really supportive, but I don't feel like I could talk to my religious friends. In my workplace, I won’t talk about it. My mum has suspicions, but I've been purposely vague to her questions. Now that I’m involved with the Pride Network and Mardi Gras, I am planning to tell my mum.
I came across the Pride Network when trying to find an LGBTIQ community at the University and have been going to meetings. I still find it kind of surprising they can be so public with their meetings and events. In my country, it would all be very hush hush. Here in Sydney I feel lots of diversity and freedom of expression so it's easier to be myself.
Mardi Gras to me is about expressing myself and taking a chance. It’s my first year participating and might be my only chance to dance in the parade. I'm on the committee and have been helping to plan our float at the parade – it's been fun, but it's totally new territory for me.
2019 marks the fourth year the University of Sydney will have a float in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Find out more about our partnership and how we'll be celebrating Mardi Gras this year.