PinkNews.co.uk’s Australia Correspondent Emma Cullingford previews this weekend’s Mardi Gras and explores the impact of the global economic downturn on the pride event.

Nations United is the theme for the 31st annual Sydney Mardi Gras. The aim this year is to highlight the importance of human rights for gay and lesbian people worldwide.

David Imrie, Chair of New Mardi Gras told PinkNews.co.uk: “There is still a long way to go as gay and lesbian rights still aren’t equal. One of the reasons the theme is Nations United is to highlight inequalities all over the world.”

Mardi Gras has evolved a great deal since the first parade in 1978 when homosexuality was illegal in Australia and 56 people were arrested during the protest.

Although times have moved on since then, extreme inequality still exists in countries where homosexuality is illegal. In some countries, like Afghanistan and Iran, it can even lead to the death penalty. There is also some way to go in more liberal countries such as Australia where inequalities do remain; for example with adoption and marriage rights.

This is the issue Mr Imrie wants to address this year, to ensure everyone in the world unites for equal rights. He said: “Mardi Gras is possibly the most visible lesbian and gay event on the planet. The key aim is to use Sydney as a world stage to highlight the injustices around the world.”

Despite the potential for the global economic crisis to have a negative impact, this year’s events have been a success. Last year, the Mardi Gras was estimated at generating £13.3m for the Sydney and the state of New South Wales. In 2008 the event received government funding for the first time.

Mr Imrie says Mardi Gras has surpassed last year in every way and expects this weekend’s Parade to be the most successful yet. The event is a major tourist attraction that draws an International crowd and this year will be no different.

“There is less money out there but all our events have sold really well, in fact better than expected. We’ve sold tickets to people from well over 20 countries,” Mr Imrie promised.

Mardi Gras culminates this Saturday 7th March with the spectacular Mardi Gras Parade. Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham is the Chief of Parade and is the first Australian to head the Parade for some time.

The Parade will end at Moore Park, ready for the official Mardi Gras Party at the Royal Hall of Industries. The Party will be headlined by world renowned DJs Paul Oakenfold and the Freemasons.