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United We Shine: My Experience of Mardi Gras

It has always been a deeply personal journey for me whenever I travel back to Sydney and dig my feet in the soil. I see the land that once brought me here at the early age of 17, with big dreams and aspirations to represent our people. To be back in my mid-forties to celebrate Mardi Gras is a force of its own.

I reflect on memories as a young First Nations man, drawn to this place to pursue a career in performing arts. At the same time, I was coming to terms with being seen differently – not only as a First Nations man but as a queer-identifying man. I searched for safe and inclusive spaces, and was drawn to the theatre. I was able to connect with others who understood, or at least tried to understand, and that’s what kept me existing.

I had an internal fire, needing to show and prove to the world just how diverse and beautiful our cultures are. We’ve also had to come to terms with the atrocities that have happened to our people, in our own country, and the continued systemic discrimination and injustice we carry on our shoulders.

The question I’m asked daily is: “How do your people move forward when you keep holding on to the past?” But it’s not that simple. It’s much deeper than that. We have intergenerational trauma on a physical, emotional, mental, cellular and ancestral level. This is why our people have struggled. It’s embedded in our DNA. But we continue to find avenues of healing – through our songs, our stories and our ceremonies.

What better way to heal than to have our mob front and centre at Mardi Gras 2022, with the theme ‘United We Shine.’ Honouring 80,000 years of connection to culture and Country, and celebrating the strength and resilience of LGBTQIA+ people. Being at the heart of it all, I felt the guidance of my Ancestors.

First Nations people have been part of Mardi Gras since the very beginning. In 1988, Malcolm Cole led the first Aboriginal float at the Sydney parade. He dressed up as Captain Cook and re-enacted the arrival of the First Fleet, stating “It is enough trouble being Black, let alone gay… That is why I am determined to put this float in the Mardi Gras.”

Fast forward to March 5 2022, over 40,000 people gathered at the Sydney Cricket Ground to witness a magical moment of First Nations and LGBTQIA+ solidarity and pride. As we listened to ‘Gold Energy’ by Electric Fields, we felt the power of unity. All cultures and people coming together – for a more equal and sustainable future – as a rainbow family.

All images: By Sermsah Bin Saad
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