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The BBC's Red Harrison
"The parade culminates three weeks of gay and lesbian activities"
 real 28k

Saturday, 3 March, 2001, 14:25 GMT
Sydney turns out for gay pride
Marching boys at Sydney Mardi Gras
Participants came from all over the world
Some half-a-million people have gathered in the Australian city of Sydney for the annual gay and lesbian Mardi Gras.

The event, which is in its 24th year, is said to be the biggest of its kind in the world.

It began as a civil rights march and continues to carry strong political messages, with this year's focus on gay marriages.

Crowds lined Sydney's streets for hours to witness the colourful and often spectacular parades.

Sydney Mardi Gras parade
The Queen of the parade
Leading the way were a group of lesbians riding motorcycles, calling themselves "Dykes on Bikes".

The lead float, titled Behind the Pink Picket Fence, highlighted families with gay and lesbian parents.

It carried the message that gay men and women should be recognised as equals with traditional parents.

Australia does not allow gay couples to marry or adopt children.

The community has been angered by comments by the country's conservative Prime Minister, John Howard, that gay and lesbian families were not as good as traditional couples.

Shock value

This year's festival has attracted marchers from across the world, including the United States, Canada, Tonga and Thailand.

A musician from Papua New Guinea, who has outraged members of his tribe by declaring his homosexuality, was among the participants.

The BBC's Red Harrison in Sydney says much of the parade was intended to shock.

There were men dressed as nuns calling themselves "The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence", representatives of the police force and army, men and women wearing expensive, extravagant and outlandish costumes, and some wearing not very much at all.

Mardi Gras has become one of Sydney's most lucrative cultural events and attracts sponsorship from some of the country's largest business houses.

For the first time, the Governor of New South Wales has agreed to become the patron of the gay and lesbian support service.

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See also:

01 Jul 00 | Entertainment
London comes out for Mardi Gras
18 Sep 00 | UK
Gay marriage: In the pink
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