Sydney's Gay Mardi Gras is the world's most spectacular gay parade.

  Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras

The week after one Mardi Gras parade ends, many participants are already creating costumes for the next year. And, presumably, hunting for storage space.

One cold June night in 1978, a gay rights protest in Sydney wrapped up with what was meant to be a festive parade. Some 1,000 revelers showed up in costume, looking for a good time. Instead, they encountered a phalanx of police, who informed them that the parade permit had been rescinded, and ordered them to break up.

A riot broke out. By night’s end, 53 people had been arrested, and countless more bloodied. That night is marked as Sydney's first Mardi Gras.

Those who left the 1978 march with blood-stained cheeks would hardly recognize today's event. Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival has become Australia’s biggest public celebration of any sort, gay or straight.

The festive parade is followed by the world’s biggest gay party: 24,000 people dancing in 3 giant halls. TV and radio crews come from some 16 countries to cover the parade. Most of Australia's leading politicians endorse the festival, while a few cement their support among right-wing constituencies by attacking it.

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But while the parade and party are the most publicized parts of the festival, Mardi Gras is actually a month-long celebration that includes arts performances, sports events, dances, poetry readings, cinema, and much more.

Gay-themed exhibits often appear at major institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Arts (Robert Mapplethorpe one year, Keith Haring another) or the more offbeat Powerhouse Museum, which has featured costumes from past Mardi Gras parades.