Mardi Gras History

A quick reference guide to the events around the first Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 1978



8 March 1978

A letter from the San Franciscan Gay Freedom Day Committee, asks for solidarity activities on 24 June to coincide with their march, which will be held in the face of the anti-gay Briggs Initiative in California.

20 March 1978

A collective of gay activists hosted by the Active Defence of Homosexuals on Campus (ADHOC) meets at Sydney University. The collective later takes the name Gay Solidarity Group.

7 April 1978

The Gay Film Fund holds a fund-raising dance at Petersham Town Hall with the bands Wasted Daze and The Faye Lewis Band.

10 May 1978

Sydney Morning Herald and Age poll shows a 57% support for homosexual law reform.

21-23 May 1978

900 attend a gay film festival at the Paris Theatre on the corner of Oxford Street and Wentworth Avenue.

24 May 1978

The Gay Film Fund holds a benefit screening of Journey Among Women as part of the Gay Film Festival at the Paris Theatre.

24 June 1978

The Weekend Australian runs a feature on gay rights.

24 June 1978 10am

500 march from the Town Hall to Martin Place. This is the largest gay march in Sydney to date.

24 June 1978 2pm

A Forum on the international gay movement is held at the Paddington Town Hall.

24 June 1978 10pm

The first Mardi Gras is pushed down Oxford Street by police. The lead sound truck is taken by police and the parade spontaneously moves to Kings Cross. The crowd grows to 2000 and subsequently 53 are arrested, some seriously beaten by police.

25 June 1978

An early morning vigil is held outside Darlinghurst Police Station and arrestees bail is organised. Later meetings and a press conference is held at CAMP, 33a Glebe Point Road.

24 June 1978 San Francisco

300,000 march in the Gay Freedom day parade against Briggs Initiative.

26 June 1978

300 protest outside closed court in Liverpool Street and 7 are arrested. The Sydney Morning Herald publishes the names, addresses, jobs of those arrested.

27 June 1978

A small delegation meets with the State Premier, Neville Wran.

30 June 1978 Melbourne Brisbane

400-600 march against the Sydney arrests. A protest is held in Brisbane.

30 June 1978

400 people meet at the Stanley Palmer Culture Palace in Darlinghurst and vote to hold a daytime march on

15th July 1978

Peter Blazey stands as a candidate for the State seat of Earlwood.

15 July 1978

2000 take part in largest ever gay rights march demanding all charges be dropped. 14 people are arrested near the Darlinghurst Police Station.

August 1978

Tropicana at 85 Oxford Street opens as a gay venue.

20 August 1978

A Drop the Charges motorcade drives from Glebe to Parramatta.

23 August 1978

The Anti-Discrimination Board releases a 5 volume report on NSW laws and calls for the decriminalisation of homosexual behaviour and the repeal of the Act and the repeal of the Summary Offences Act.

25 -27 August 1978

Labor Senator Susan Ryan opens the 4th National Homosexual Conference at Paddington Town Hall, Sydney. The conference theme is Homosexuals at Work. The Gay Trade Unionists’ Group and the Australian Gay Archives are formed at the Conference.

27 August 1978

Police arrest 73 at Taylor Square and 31 protesters are arrested at the Right to Life Rally in Hyde Park. ( The total arrested is now 178)

29 August 1978

The Sydney Morning Herald again publishes names and personal details of arrestees.

September 1978

The Fitness Exchange is formed.

12 September 1978

The Australian Public Service bans discrimination against lesbians and gay men.

12 September 1978 ACT
The ACT Branch of the federal public service union, ACOA, passes a motion supporting anti-discrimination for homosexual public servants.

16 September 1978

A Drop the Charges rally is in the Trades Hall.

22 September 1978

A Drop the Charges picket is held outside Central Court.

23 September 1978

A group called the Coalition Against Repression demonstrate against the Festival of Light Rally in Hyde Park.

24 September 1978

The Gay Trade Unionists’ Group holds its first meeting.

October 1978

The first newsletter of Gay Trade Unionists’ Group is published.

3 October 1978

The Gay Solidarity Group picket Labor Party election launch in the suburb of Ryde.

16-20 October 1978

The Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations (ACSPA) calls for a gay workers’ conference against discrimination.

18 October 1978

The Sydney Morning Herald editorial defends listing names, details of arrestees.

4 November 1978

About 300 march from Circular Quay to Hyde Park demanding “Drop the Charges” and “Solidarity against Briggs vote”.

11 November 1978

NSW Gay Fed, a coalition of gay groups is founded.

26 November 1978

Acceptance premises at 46 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst is inaugurated with High Mass.

18 December 1978

NSW Teachers’ Federation adopts a gay rights policy.

Updated: 19/9/15

TESTIMONIES from 78ers

An official apology was made to those who marched in the first Mardi Gras – the 78ers. Not everyone agreed to accept it.

Jo Harrison

I am a 78er. As far as I am concerned, an apology without concrete action and reparations / redress / compensation in some form attached to it is hollow and meaningless. Just like the apology to the stolen generation. Oh sorry, but forget about compensation or not having your communities shut down or your legal services and health services gutted. It’s the same. If you want to apologise to me and have me even remotely take it seriously then tell me what actual PRACTICAL things you intend to do IMMEDIATELY by way of recompense. Royal Commission into the gay murders? Sort out the ongoing problems with the community and the NSW police force? Remove ALL RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS NOW from ALL AREAS of discrimination. I could go on.

But DO NOT offer me an apology that can’t even get the description of the first mardi gras right (two articles today have described it completely incorrectly, that is just slack and woeful). and DO NOT offer me an apology that does not include hard as concrete actions that will be taken IMMEDIATELY to show you are really sorry. Otherwise it is just more hollow words and they mean nothing. I would rather you worked on getting the actual reason why the event took place and what it actually was in 1978 right first. Continuing to convolute and distort my history insults me. Then offering me an apology without concrete action insults me more. If some 78ers think the apology is sufficient for them, fine. That’s not the case for me. I was never one for words without action. And whoever ‘the 78ers’ are, we are not one body, one entity, which government can say it has ‘agreed’ or ‘sorted out the wording’ on this with. We are many, and we have NOT all been consulted about this apology or its wording. We are as diverse as we were in June 1978. For me, sorry seems to be the hardest word, but hard action is always what really counts. I await something concrete and meaningful.

More seriously incorrect reporting about what mardi gras was. Not one photo of the actual event. ‘On June 24, 1978, more than 500 activists took to Taylor Square in Darlinghurst in support and celebration of New York’s Stonewall movement (no it wasn’t, read the history and the info about the letter from SF and the Briggs Initiative) and to call for an end to criminalisation of homosexual acts and discrimination against homosexuals. (it was about police attacks on gays women and blacks, don’t water it down) The peaceful movement (it was a parade, not a march or a demo or a gathering, a parade, and not a ‘peaceful movement’ whatever that means) ended in violence and public shaming at the hands of the police, government and media.’ IT WAS A BRUTAL RIOT.

Coco Lossil

I am a 78er. I was a student at Macquarie University [law, politics and behavioural sciences] when a group of us decided to attend. I still carry the police baton injury sustained to my knees. When younger it was a mild limp and inconvenience, but each year as I age is becomes more painful and a greater source of pain and mobility problems. I do wonder whether something like an online veteran’s service where any of us who would like help from the community could post our request and someone interested in helping could respond would be a useful gesture. So much is done for veterans in other conflict contexts and many would no longer know the huge financial, career, educational and family connections that were put on the line when participating in public protests like this.

A student at MU had in fact lost her Commonwealth teaching scholarship, and threats to her liberty via psychiatric threats simply for publishing a poem celebrating her love for her girlfriend. Her teaching career ended as a result but pleased to report she managed to survive the trauma to make a life doing something else. Another boy at MU was kicked out of student college. The Sydney Morning Herald photos and use of names resulted in another female teacher at a private girl’s school being given her marching orders.

The repercussions were savage for many of us. The financial and other penalties imposed on us simply for being gay are still subject to ignorance. Straight people in a de facto relationship who owned property could split up and enjoy waiver of Stamp Duty and other statutory costs but not if you were gay. Life long gay partners were not entitled to their partner’s superannuation as a partner till relatively recently. I call it the Prejudice Tax and in many cases it literally was – I and my partner paid higher single rate taxation for almost all our working lives. Millions and millions over decades paid out in Prejudice Tax. The apology is a lovely gesture and especially appreciated by those of us subject to homophobic abuse as students by Christine Forster’s brother and his sniggering conservative mates but consideration of other, more tangible reparations should be the next step.

Mark Gillespie

Sadly, any apology now is too late for so many who were present at that first Mardi Gras and are no longer with us. Many were cut down before their time in the HIV AIDS epidemic.

The efforts of these NSW parliamentarians, though, are important and mean a great deal to the 78ers that survive. Back in 1978 we called, in vain, for a Royal Commission into the police violence of that June night. We also called for an apology from Fairfax for publishing the names, occupations and addresses of all of the 53 people who were arrested that night.

Till this time no formal apology has been received from Fairfax. After nearly 38 years since the first Mardi Gras an apology by the NSW State parliament would help to heal the wounds.

So as an original 78er I welcome an apology by the NSW Parliament. But it needs to be a “living apology”. A living apology is one where Parliament affirms the need for ongoing vigilance so that the human rights of LGBTIQ people are respected and protected in law.

It also has to affirm the need for ongoing social investment in educational programs that create a more inclusive NSW community where differences are respected and where the power of diversity is celebrated.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)