PinkNews.co.uk’s Australia Correspondent, Emma Cullingford reports from Sydney on the city’s Mardi Gras parade, one of the largest in the world.

Sydney’s streets were lined with approximately 300,000 spectators on Saturday night for the 31st annual Mardi Gras Parade. Almost 10,000 participants and 135 floats took part in the parade, led by Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham.

The celebration of pride and diversity began with the tradition of Dykes on Bikes racing around the parade route before the main event began. The 135 floats represented a variety of causes from Surf Life Saving Australia to assassinated Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California.

The one and a half mile long parade saw streets packed with some parts ten people deep. The crowd was full of local and International visitors and people were animated and in enthusiastic spirits. The energy of the participants was also high, even towards the end of the parade route. The crowds cheered as the colourful floats passed by, with the biggest cheers going to the emergency services. Organisers describe the parade as ‘the jewel in our crown.’ New Mardi Gras Chair David Imrie said: “I love every minute of the parade. The atmosphere is electric.”

This year’s political theme was Nations United. This was represented in the floats and amongst participants, several of whom were carrying flags from around the world. To further illustrate the theme, the parade was divided into seven sections to represent each of the earth’s continents.The key message was the importance of human rights for gay and lesbian people everywhere in the world.

Mardi Gras began as a protest in 1978 when homosexuality was illegal and 56 arrests were made. This year 100 police participated in the parade and they commanded some of the biggest cheers from the crowds.

Oxford Street was declared an alcohol-free zone during the parade. Despite Oxford Street usually being an alcohol-free zone, exemption had been granted for the past two years. Police say despite the large crowds, people were generally well behaved.

The parade was televised for the first time since 2002 on Australia’s Foxtel network.