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Mardi Gras: what matters to me

24 February 2020
Getting to the heart of the matter with our LGBTIQ+ students
Mardi Gras 2020 is on Saturday 29 February, and the University of Sydney is once again a proud partner of the parade. In the lead up to the big event, we spoke to three current students about their journey, and the issues that are important to them.

Abbynayaa Rajendra

Abbynayaa Rajendra is a third year Occupational Therapy student originally from Canberra and is currently treasurer of the Queers of Colour Society. This is the second year she’ll be marching in the Mardi Gras parade.

I’d never seen a gay person who looked like me. Being born in Australia to Sri Lankan immigrant parents, I had no idea how my family would react as no one from my community was out. Living in a smaller city didn’t make exploring my identity any easier, so two years ago I took a leap of faith and moved to Sydney.

In my first week at USYD, I went to a party and by chance met a bunch of queer people - some of whom I consider my closest friends today. Going to the LGBTIQ+ clubs and societies at USYD helped me develop a support network pretty quickly. These people helped boost my self-confidence and, through sharing our similar experiences, helped me confirm that there was nothing wrong with me.

I came out to my parents last year - one week before I first marched. It was both terrifying and incredibly freeing to be honest about who I was to the closest people in my life. Thankfully, my parents took it really well and are completely supportive today - I really won the parent lottery. That huge milestone further added to the triumph I felt when I marched. 

What matters to me is continued ethnic representation in the community; particularly creating a space for individuals who have it hard. Growing up as a second generation immigrant child is already difficult enough, with the cultural clashes and expectations to maintain traditions while seamlessly having to blend into Australian society. Adding being LGBTIQ+ to the mix adds another layer of ‘different’. For me, marching in Mardi Gras gave me the opportunity to celebrate my identity without that feeling of being ‘different’. It is an event that prides itself on being accessible to people of all backgrounds, genders and sexualities.

Claudio Campi

Claudio Campi, 23-year-old Master of Public Policy & Economics student from Italy. This is his first time marching in the parade.

Growing up, I had always felt pulled in opposite directions by two powerful forces: an eager curiosity to go out in this world and explore, and a crushing shyness and introversion. This is why, as soon as I got the chance, I started travelling everywhere I could; but also why I found it hard to open up and be myself back home, despite being surrounded by the most loving and supporting family and friends. I was born and raised in Milan, Italy, until I left at the age of 22. I will never forget how on my last night as a resident of Milan, before moving 16000 km away to Sydney, I came out to the last friends that still did not know about me.

When I first experienced Mardi Gras here, it hit me how the whole celebration is a party thrown for us and not just by us. Being cheered on and supported by elders, children and institutions, both during Pride month and throughout my daily life here, is a luxury I thought someone like me could never afford. That’s why seeing a simple thing like a ‘Welcome here’ rainbow sticker in a gym or public library still makes my heart flutter. Ever since witnessing my first Mardi Gras Parade, I knew that my sexuality here wasn’t viewed as something odd or peculiar, but rather as a part of me, which was celebrated like all the rest.

What matters to me is that the community take a deep introspective look at ourselves while moving forward. The LGBTIQ+ community is so diverse that it encompasses and intersects with every other group.  We can’t speak of celebrating full and unconditional equality until we have addressed the inequalities within our community and have made sure that every single voice is heard and given the appropriate space among us. My hope is we can direct our efforts to make our people of colour, trans and non-binary people, and those who come from impoverished and disadvantaged background feel as included and empowered as we usually feel among society during Mardi Gras.

Ethan Michael Christ

Ethan Christ is a domestic student here at The University of Sydney. he is currently studying a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Animal and Veterinary Bioscience), majoring in Animal Health, Disease and Welfare. This is his first time marching in the parade.

I came out to my family and best friends in 2015, around the time that US Marriage Equality was legislated. I was 15 at the time and living in Forster-Tuncurry NSW, then the only person that had come out as gay in my high school year. Naturally, I stood out like a sore thumb. I had always been given a tough time for being different in previous years, to the point I developed internalised homophobia, then coming out as gay felt like I was affirming everyone’s preconceived thoughts and opinions. Being gay was painted with such negative connotations, I even prayed consecutively to wake up the next morning and be normal.

After coming out, I still felt an unease and reluctance around embracing my sexuality. Living in a regional town such as where I grew up, being a member of a minority group such as the LGBTIQ+ community wasn’t exactly celebrated. I remember driving down the main street of the town to see a man wearing a shirt detesting marriage equality and the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community, no one batted an eyelid and to some that was perfectly acceptable – maybe even considered right. Moments like that only made it harder for me to accept me for who I am.

My first steps in the city was such a culture shock, I felt isolated yet surrounded by people. I chose Sydney based on the reputation and renowned Veterinary School but felt I would be able to grow so much more within the community too. Eventually I developed the confidence to venture outside the university surrounding suburbs by myself with less anxiety as ever. I made connections, explored, dissolved barriers. I have been able to embrace my sexuality more and more as time, legislation and policy passes.

What matters to me is that we solidify the foundations we’ve made in supporting minority groups, such as the LGBTIQ+ community. My heart goes out to those individuals struggling with acceptance, recognition and support everywhere. My experiences have given me such a huge appreciation for the changing views and perspectives through education and exposure. However, this progress needs to be carried beyond the cities to the rural-regional areas of Australia to further providing safer spaces for LGBTIQ+ individuals.

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