Just be you

A healthy society is one that values its own diversity and treats all of its citizens with equal respect

It's baaaack. This weekend, Sydney's world-famous Mardi Gras parade will once again snake its glittering way up Oxford and Flinders Streets, no doubt cheered on by thousands of well-wishers.

The Mardi Gras parade has become a Sydney cultural icon, a touchstone of pure fabulousness. It's a genuine homegrown event that people from all over the world flock to Sydney to experience. But for all the thousands of participants and visitors, for the multitude of feathers and sequins involved, all that leather, lycra and lace, the parade's overarching message remains surprisingly simple - just be you.

You don't have to be gay or lesbian to appreciate this sentiment – it's something that can resonate with everyone. We spend a lot of time and energy playing different roles, being someone (or something) that we're not. We've become so used to experiencing the world from behind the same couple of masks, that in some cases we barely know who we really are anymore. And all of this is mostly just to please others and to meet the expectations of polite society. To fit in.

So an event that encourages us to throw the masks aside, even just for one night, and celebrate our true inner selves, in all our colour and weirdness, deserves to be embraced.

In the parade's 38-year history, this message of diversity and inclusion hasn't changed. But much of society's attitudes towards homosexuality have. It was a very different world back in 1978. Gays and lesbians were mostly still pretty invisible. The first Mardi Gras parade was organized to commemorate the 9th anniversary of New York's infamous Stonewall riots, and itself ended with violence, police brutality and 53 arrests.

Testament to how far we've come as a society since then, only last month the NSW parliament finally issued an apology to the "78ers", the men and women who bravely marched in that first parade and were subjected to such brutal violence at the hands of the NSW police.

The apology is an important step, but there are many areas in which discrimination against gays and lesbians still exist. No doubt the issue of same sex marriage will feature prominently in this weekend's parade. It's these instances of discrimination that keep the parade and associated festivities firmly anchored to their activist beginnings and remind us all that there's still work to be done. A healthy society is one that values its own diversity and treats all of its citizens with equal respect. This is something that TAFE NSW has always understood, and something that's reflected in its wonderfully diverse student body.

In the meantime, there's still plenty of fun to be had, by anyone who wants to indulge. Check out the ad on SBS for their broadcast of the parade, which shows ordinary passersby seeing the invisible sides of their personalities coming to fabulous life in the reflection of a shop window. Now there's a perfect embodiment of Mardi Gras' message. You really can be whoever you want to be.