blog 200325 first mardigras

Finally, it’s happened to me
Right in front of my face
And I just cannot hide it

Finally, it’s happened to me
Right in front of my face
My feelings can’t describe it

I’m humming the words to the Ce Ce Peniston iconic song, ‘Finally’ as I walk home after marching in the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade at the end of February 2020, with the Positive Life NSW group.

At the age of 52, I have finally marched in the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade! I always thought I would someday, some year – and now I have.

The evening started at 6.30pm, as our group of 60 marchers gathered on the city side of Hyde Park to enter the marshalling area. The noise was deafening. A constant spectacle of colourful and costumed strutted, stalked, walked and postured past me. Drag queens on the neighbouring float performing personal shows – just for us.  Fellow marchers breaking into collective dance. It was intoxicating!

I was warned that the wait was a bit of drag (with a lot of drag!) It was. But it didn’t matter – what a party!  The Parade was running late and just as the more experienced exhibitors started to wane, the float up front and then those beside us started to move.  Suddenly Jane, the CEO of Positive Life and designated driver called, “We’re next! After that float moving passes us!”

“We’re going!”

I yelled over the booming disco to my fellow marchers and we started walking forward. As we began our own flaunt-and-flourish down College Street, others in their floats who were still waiting to move off, applauded, hooted, whistled and waved us off. Heartwarming stuff!

Our group turned onto Oxford Street. I felt a wave of adrenaline and energy from the crowd sweep over me. Here we go! Over 200,000 enthusiastic spectators gathered in and around Hyde Park to cheer us on as we walked along the strip.

My weary legs recovered, and I felt light and loved, a part of the pageant. I floated down Oxford Street.

As our enthusiastic group sauntered past the crowds, the applause grew louder. This continued throughout our journey. I felt deeply touched with this public show of support, and almost palpable waves of love.

We were not the fanciest, the rudest, nor the loudest or cheekiest. Instead we were people walking in black and red, proudly wearing t-shirts emblazoned with ‘HIV: Hidden in Plain Sight’ across our chests and breasts in silver and red. We held our oversized ruby-red ribbons  proudly along with banners and placards that read ‘We’ve been here since the start’, ‘Women living with HIV’, ‘Someone I love lives with HIV’, ‘People living with HIV hidden in plain sight’, and ‘I’m here, not hidden’’.

Our message was plain and simple. All of us living with HIV are here ‘hidden in plain sight’ in one way or another. Today you can’t tell if your sister, brother, grandmother or the stranger standing next to you on public transport, might be living with HIV. They’re all living hidden in plain sight. Some of us can’t talk about living with HIV through fear or shame. They too are living hidden in plain sight.

Today we know people from culturally linguistic backgrounds, women living with HIV or Aboriginal people living with HIV are not ‘emerging’ groups. They too have been here all along since the beginning of the epidemic, hidden in plain sight.

As I reflect on how this experience was for me, I find I’m feeling deeply thankful.

Thankful that I am a queer man who lives in a part of the world that embraces me loudly, enthusiastically and stridently in this public way.

Thankful that I have this opportunity to march proudly and openly as a man living with HIV.

I am enormously thankful I am privileged to have the personal strength, support and capacity to be able to stand with my community of people living with HIV, when so many of us still hide in fear, and shame. Isolated and alone.

I am thankful to the passionate Positive Life team and the glorious ragbag of noisy, enthusiastic, animated HIV positive, negative and HIV unknown, women, men and gender diverse people who shared this glorious evening with me!

Thank You

Stephen Lunny

Click here to see the 2020 Positive Life Mardi Gras Parade photographs

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