Academic superheroes march at Mardi Gras

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WSU demonstrated its support of the LGBTQI+ community once again by having a float in this year’s Mardi Gras. Toby Hemmings reports on the exhilarating event.
mardi gras wsu 2019
Brodie Gilmour, Kimberley Caluwaers, Matilda Elliott, Samantha Elliott, Zoe Merrick at Mardi Gras (Supplied)

On March 3rd, around 80 students, staff members, alumni, friends and family from Western Sydney University marched up Oxford St and through Taylor Square as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

Nestled in at number 111 out of 198, the WSU float was themed around academic superheroes. Marchers carried comic-book placards adorned with phrases such as “truth”, “justice” and “inclusion”. When asked why this theme was chosen, Michelle Hayter-Falconer from the university’s Office of Equity and Diversity said, “Western Sydney University makes a genuine and significant contribution to academic knowledge of sexuality and gender diversity. Many of these projects highlight the true experiences of queer lives in a way that influences better inclusion and justice for queer individuals.”

The dress code for participants brought to mind a graduation ceremony soaked in colours of the rainbow. The float was led by Naomi Hastings, vice president of the Student Representative Council (SRC). She skated ahead of the marchers and would then open her rainbow cape with a flourish to cheers of delight from the assembled crowd. Dancers brought up the rear, somehow managing to bust a move to fragments of empowering bops while moving forward.

Several international students studying at WSU participated in the the joyful celebration of queer identity down one of Sydney’s main streets. Emerson Lau Da Silva is a Brazilian post-graduate studying at Parramatta City Campus. Last year, he watched the parade from the sidelines. This year, he was invited to dance with the WSU float and coloured his beard a glorious glittered blue for the occasion. “In Brazil, there is a lot of prejudice still and gay people are suffering. Here there is a welcoming attitude.”

Yet for domestic students, being out and proud in their sexual and gender identity can be difficult. Most of the WSU campuses are in areas where a majority voted against same-sex marriage in the 2017 plebiscite. In keeping with the academic superheroes float theme, marchers with WSU were offered masks to conceal their identity. Michelle Hayter-Falconer explained that this choice for added anonymity was grounded in supporting all LGBTQI+ students who wanted to march, including those who were still in the closet. “You can be ‘out’ to some individuals in your life, but there may be others who you don’t want to know your sexuality. Even where this is the case, participating in Mardi Gras may still be important, perhaps even more so, and we totally support that.”

Domestic student Samantha Elliott noted that to march in the Mardi Gras Parade as a university was important because it showed an inclusive attitude and support for students. Indeed, it would be hard to think of a place where queer members of WSU felt more supported than in the centre of Oxford St, draped in rainbows and glitter, surrounded by queer kin and showered in love from an adoring crowd.

 

Toby Hemmings

Toby is a fourth year Law and Communications student at Western Sydney University. He's fascinated…

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