Around the world, staying closeted – invisible and silent – is the only form of protection for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people. Paradoxically, staying quiet and invisible also makes LGBTI people vulnerable.
Mardi Gras is the opposite – a highly visible and vocal public event. It is a day when LGBTI people, their families, and supporters show up and take over the streets. It is a day when a minority briefly becomes the majority. It is a day of celebration, and a day of commemoration. A marker of where we have come from, and where we are going. Mardi Gras might be old hat to some participants, but for the isolated, bullied kid, it is a beacon of hope. Pride marches originate in a refusal to live in the shadows. A common story whereby isolated individuals find each other, form community, and stand up for change.
For LGBTI people across the globe, the biggest obstacle to change is invisibility. It is a truism that visibility leads to social acceptance, precisely because LGBTI people are all around us as friends, family members, colleagues. “Silence = Death” was the ominous, prescient slogan of the direct-action group Act Up to counter the silence around homosexuality and the stigma of AIDS. And the greatest rallying cry of the LGBTI movement has been to “come out.” This is why Pride is so central to the international LGBTI movement.
Australians can take Mardi Gras for granted. Australia is no longer one of 73 countries that forbid same-sex intimacy. Neither does Australia have laws – as other countries do – that curtail the right to free expression, or inhibit freedom of association for LGBTI people. But Australia does not allow same-sex marriage, lagging behind the 22 other countries that do. This year, Human Rights Watch marches in Mardi Gras with a simple message: Australia should embrace marriage equality.