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  • Gavin Scott

Partying With Purpose

When Kylie Minogue takes the stage at Sydney WorldPride 2023, she’ll make history as part of the Southern Hemisphere’s debut as host of the global spectacular. Its organisers hope that as huge numbers fly in to party across the city, it will also be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our local LGBTQIA+ community to advocate for change. Words Gavin Scott
Australian pop royalty Kylie Minogue will headline the Sydney WorldPride opening ceremony. Photography courtesy Dean Chalkley/Camera Press/Australscope.

When the organisers of Sydney WorldPride were deciding whom to approach to headline the festival’s opening ceremony, there was really only one choice: Australian pop royalty Kylie Minogue, who has a long history of working alongside this country’s LGBTQIA+ community.


“Kylie’s been involved with Mardi Gras for over 20 years, so it was a no-brainer for us — she is our queen,” says Sydney WorldPride CEO Kate Wickett. “She’s been volunteering and working alongside us and coming and performing at events for decades, so we were very clear with her that she was our number one.”


Minogue first performed at Mardi Gras in 1994 and returned to the after-party stage in 1998 and 2012. In 2019, she made a surprise appearance at the parade, mingling with spectators. In the lead-up to 2017’s marriage equality postal survey, the entertainer threw her support behind the Yes campaign, joining then-fiancé Joshua Sasse in promoting Say I Do Down Under and declaring she would not marry until the law was passed.


“They’ve been with me through thick and thin,” she told Molly Meldrum in 2006 about her gay following. “Probably adopted me when it was my most uncool period. And I never was marketed towards that audience — it was very organic.”


Describing the singer as “such a kind person” and an “utter professional”, Wickett says for someone of Minogue’s stature to throw her support behind WorldPride “shows really great leadership. When you’ve got allies like Kylie who come and stand with our community during the tough times, standing up there and saying yes to marriage equality … She’s a real beacon in the community.”


Having such a recognisable name as Minogue be a headline performer was welcomed by the NSW Government, the event’s major strategic partner. The Honourable Ben Franklin, Minister for Tourism and the Arts, said, “Sydney is an inclusive and proud LGBTQIA+ city. We are the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to host WorldPride and we’re incredibly excited to welcome revellers and friends from across the globe for the ultimate celebration.” For her own part, Minogue said she was “so excited to announce that I will be performing at the opening concert in Sydney on 24 February, 2023 at The Domain. Can’t wait to see you there!”


Ben Graetz, festival creative director — First Nations for Sydney WorldPride, as Miss Ellaneaous. Photography courtesy Anna Kucera.

A global event licensed to host cities by InterPride, which comprises more than 400 Pride organisations around the world, WorldPride now takes place every two years, with members bidding for the right to host. In 2019, Sydney won the bid for WorldPride 2023 against Montreal and Houston. The 2023 festival takes place from February 17 to March 5, coinciding with the 45th anniversary of Sydney’s Mardi Gras, which was one of the propositions included in the pitch to gain hosting rights.


“It’s an opportunity for Sydney, which has an undeniable queer culture and fabric, to showcase all of our current Mardi Gras events, which we’ve come to know and love, but also shine a light on our First Nations culture, particular our Brother Boys and Sister Girls and, more broadly, the Asia Pacific region,” says Wickett, who was the co-chair of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras during the bid process and was then hired to serve as CEO of the standalone organisation Sydney WorldPride, which is running the 17-day event.


“This is the job of my dreams,” adds Wickett. “I’m a lawyer by background and have been in the commercial world for many years. I’ve [also] been volunteering in the LGBTQIA+ space for over 20 years, so this is like the perfect intersection of my corporate and commercial career with my volunteer life.”

Kylie is a longstanding supporter — and darling — of Mardi Gras.

What is especially important to Wickett — and the whole Sydney WorldPride organisation — is the emphasis there will be on the event’s human rights conference, which, like the opening and closing ceremonies and a Pride parade, is one of four components that must be included in any host city’s plans. Rather than just ticking it off the list, Sydney WorldPride’s human rights conference is “a cornerstone” of its offering. As Wickett neatly puts it, Sydney WorldPride is “a party with purpose”.


“Some people think that we’ve got marriage equality and there’s no more work to do, when in fact that’s not the case,” says Wickett. “We’re not equal until we’re all equal, so marriage equality didn’t fix everything. We still have a way to go, particularly with our trans folk, conversion practices, our intersex folk …


“Also, there’s still work to do in our region,” continues Wickett. “There are still some of the most egregious crimes against our LGBTQI community. There are still over 60 countries where it’s illegal to be gay. There’ll be global leaders here and this is an opportunity to shine a light on those injustices and advocate for change.”

Equality Australia, Australia’s leading LGBTQIA+ human rights organisation that was launched out of the marriage equality movement, is curating the three-day program, which will feature a diversity of speakers and representation from Australia and abroad, and utilise a range of delivery methods, from panel discussions to roundtables and fireside chats with high-profile guests.


“We are highlighting the work being carried out by our community and its allies,” says Ymania Brown, the project lead for Sydney WorldPride Human Rights Conference at Equality Australia. “But it is also an open invitation for others to get on board as we grow support for the human rights of LGBTQIA+ people in every corner of the globe, particularly in Asia Pacific.”

Sydney WorldPride CEO Kate Wickett. Photography courtesy Mark Dickson; courtesy of Destination NSW.

According to Brown, the conference is an opportunity for those in power to “learn about the struggles of sexually and gender diverse communities and intersex people from around the world, and to become allies for change”. And for those already advocating for change, it will provide them “with the skills, networks and experiences to return to their local communities better able to continue their work”.


Brown’s hope is that “drawing global attention to the issues facing our communities across Asia and the Pacific will ensure governments and other decision makers will step up to support LGBTQIA+ people across the region”.


Diversity was a guiding principle for the organisers in putting together the rest of the festival, along with ensuring Sydney WorldPride is as inclusive as possible — something Wickett believes they have achieved. “I know that WorldPride will be a success, other than being on time and being a good quality project and on budget, if anyone in our community can look through our program and see themselves in something,” she says.


Ben Graetz, festival creative director — First Nations for Sydney WorldPride, echoes that sentiment. “Mardi Gras is known for its incredible parties and the parade, which people adore, so we knew in planning WorldPride there had to be a case of ‘more of that’,” he says. “But then our focus turned to those who don’t necessarily see themselves reflected in those events — that’s how WorldPride Arts and WorldPride Sports was born, with over 100 events completely outside of the party genre and many of them free.”


To ensure as many people as possible felt included, the Pride Amplified program was created to encourage LGBTQIA+ event producers to put forth their own events for the festival. For Graetz, those “curatorial priorities” of inclusivity and diversity were paramount. “Being a First Nations person in a leadership role, I wanted to make sure we stuck to [those priorities],” he says. “As I flick through the Festival Guide now, you do see the full colours of the rainbow, you see geographic diversity of where the events occur, you see voices and ideas that have not been given this kind of platform before.


“I’m particularly proud of the First Nations Gathering Space, which is called Marri Madung Butbut [Many Brave Hearts]. I cannot wait to see mob and visitors alike enjoying our culture,” he continues.


Wickett believes that inclusivity extends to the community’s allies — and even those who haven’t been so supportive. “We always say Sydney WorldPride is an event for everyone — your friends, your family, your mum, your dad; everyone is invited and that includes the 61 per cent [who voted yes] and even the others who didn’t vote yes for marriage equality,” she says.


It’s not just Sydney’s LGBTQIA+ community and their extended network who are expected to show up for WorldPride. “We’re expecting 500,000 attendees and tens of thousands of international visitors,” said Minister Franklin. “This program of events is world-class, and NSW will be abuzz with activity featuring more than 300 events over 17 days.” Beyond the official proceedings, festivalgoers will be encouraged to explore the city’s LGBTQIA+ history, with businesses in inner city precincts like Darlinghurst, Bondi and Newtown bound to benefit from the influx of tourists visiting notable sites like Oxford Street and Erskineville’s Imperial hotel. As a result, the city’s visitor economy is projected to receive a boost of more than $100 million.

Sissy Ball 2022, hosted at Sydney Town Hall.

Minister Franklin added, “The NSW Government’s Visitor Economy Strategy 2030 outlines our vision to make NSW the premier visitor economy of the Asia Pacific, with a target of $65 billion in total visitor expenditure. Hosting major international events like Sydney WorldPride is key to achieving that goal.”


With such alarge-scale event comes some major logistical considerations. And as Sydney WorldPride began to get the ball rolling on putting the event together, it, like many other organisations, was faced with a shortage of qualified hospitality and events workers, with both industries having been decimated by the challenges caused by the pandemic. Now, with just over 50 staff in place, the team is confident the festival will go a long way to communicating, as Wickett says, “Hey, Sydney’s back. And we’re ready to invite the world here.”


For details of events during Sydney WorldPride, visit sydneyworldpride.com.


This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our sixth edition, Page 18 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “Partying With Purpose”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.

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