By Ollie Henderson

I love Mardi Gras! Who doesn’t?

It’s that special time of year during which every straight person in Sydney, perhaps even Australia (why stop here, let’s just say the world), wishes that they were gay.

Because we make it look like so much fun.

But are those who want to dip their toes for a day raining on our parade?

In the past few weeks I’ve seen a few of my straight friends post Facebook statuses asking how they can get on a float. The answer is quite simple – BE GAY (or PFLAG, love you guys).

Of course, you’re welcome to celebrate with us, but please bare in mind: this is our party, not yours. There’s a big difference between being an ally and co-opting our culture.

Bring your sequins, glitter and false eyelashes but also ask yourself: Are you cherry picking parts of queer culture while turning a blind eye to the many problems and oppressions the group faces? Will you be there when yet another trans person is murdered? Will you break up the fight when another person is being gay bashed? Have been to a marriage equality rally?

There is no doubt that Mardi Gras has distanced itself form it’s political roots but we should not forget the reason why it still exists – to celebrate queer culture.

Queers rarely have the opportunity for self-defined expression in the public eye. Representation that is not tokenistic, that is honest and real. This is what Mardi Gras represents for us.

Is it possible that every straight person in the parade dilutes its queerness? Has anyone else walked around Oxford Street on a Saturday night recently? The *former* gay hub is now overrun. Yes you are welcome in our spaces, but be aware of your presence. You have literally everywhere else!

I know plenty of queers who would love to be in the parade but just don’t know the channels to get in. The float that I will be on this year has just been asked to cut their numbers because there isn’t enough space. Are you taking the place of someone who needs to fly their flag because there is no other space in which they can?

Don’t forget, you can always just watch the parade, you don’t have to be in the spotlight. This is a great way to support your queer pals and have a great time without taking away their space.

There is definitely a place for straight people in the Mardi Gras parade. But what is your intention? Have you been invited into the space or are you just waltzing on in? Is it all just for fun or do you have a purpose for being in the parade?

Last year was my first Mardi Gras. My best friend Toby (a straight, cis guy) came on the float with me. He was personally invited by me as my support; I didn’t really know anyone else on the float and I needed him to chill my social anxiety. I wanted my best friend to share my first Mardi Gras celebration. But Toby supports me and other queers, on an off the field. He is a true ally.

Over the years Mardi Gras has been criticised for sponsors who pay lip service to the cause but don’t really care about the queer community. This year, as a part of Mardi Gras’ Queer Thinking, a panel has been organised to enable a dialogue with sponsors about their work practice and how they can actively support the queer community throughout the year – not just for one night.

Having vocal allies all year round is important to us as a community and essential to our political battles.

Queers have fought hard for the freedom to walk down the streets with all our colours shining bright. And none of us, gay, straight or otherwise should EVER forget that.

The Mardi Gras Parade is not just a party! It is oppression being lifted. It is our freedom.

If you are straight and walking/marching/dancing in the parade this year, yes you are welcome, but remember you are there to celebrate queer liberation, not your own.

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