Thousands Celebrate Gay Mardi Gras in Australia

SYDNEY (AP) — Thousands of people in lavish costumes and various states of undress danced and partied their way through Sydney’s streets on Saturday, in Australia’s annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

The parade—one of the world’s largest and most flamboyant gay pride events—had 9,400 participants and 135 floats and featured the theme, ‘History of the World’—a look at gay history.

Hundreds of thousands of cheering spectators watched the procession, led this year by famed transsexual model Amanda Lepore. Her sparse attire, festooned with precision-cut crystals, left little to the imagination as she perched on an open-top Mercedes.

One reveler dressed as Osama bin Laden led a group of dancing “Binlettes,” who sported pink sequins and improvised

“mini-burkas,’’ which only covered the head. Osama’s right-hand man, who identified himself as “Greenie,’’ said the bearded leader was here to terrorize the intolerant.

“It’s about bringing back the gayness for Osama: Express the flesh!” Greenie said. “He’s been in a cave for a long time. Bill Clinton couldn’t do it, George Bush couldn’t do it, Barack Obama doesn’t want to do it... but he’s come out today for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras here in Sydney.”

Amanda“Michael Jackson’s Thriller Zombie Marching Group” followed a hearse through the streets, which the director and producer of the float, Gareth Ernst, said was a parody of the celebrity death cult.

“Celebrities are like zombies”’ said Ernst, who was dressed as Joey Stefano, a 1980s porn star. “They die and come back stronger, more powerful and more popular.”

Other dancers were decked out in full Lycra bodysuits, red devil halos and peacock feathers.

“I actually came out on a float,” Ernst said. “My parents saw me kissing my boyfriend on television. Ten days later I had a call from my mum, who only said to me, “We saw you on TV!”

Spectators crowded the route of the parade through Australia’s lar­gest city. They held rainbow banners and Aussie flags aloft in the hot night air. Jewelry-covered dancers flaunted their frills for the crowd and twirled LED hula hoops with mesmeric variation. One spectator, Em­ma Rule, drove more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Melbourne to watch the parade for the first time, and spent more than six hours waiting on the sidelines for the festivities to begin. “We’ve been here since 1:30 p.m.,’’ she said excitedly. “But it was worth it... we were looking forward to the Dykes on Bikes—they are always awesome.’’

Rule was referring to the famed Australian lesbian motorcycling group, which rode up and down the parade route on their bikes clad in leather, revving their engines and honking horns.

The parade began as a protest march in 1978 by homosexual and transsexual men and women.

Katrina Marton, head of events at Mardi Gras, said the parade had taken on special importance after a same-sex marriage bill was voted down in the Senate earlier this week.

“Under the glitz and glamour it’s still a political march,’’ she said.