Imagine a place where rainbow flags fly from every corner. Everything from the local dentist to the world-renowned art museum rolls out the rainbow carpet. A place where even the sharks donned their finest gay apparel. (More on that later.) This was the reality of Sydney WorldPride, which offered 17 days of celebrating the LGBTQ+ community in Australia and beyond. News is Out, a LGBTQ+ media outlet collabroation with Tagg, was one of the few U.S. outlets invited to attend, and this reporter was dazzled and delighted at every turn.
Sydney WorldPride coincided with Sydney’s famed Mardis Gras. Much similar to New York’s Stonewall rebellion of 1969, Mardis Gras began as a protest in 1978. In fact, the night of the first Mardis Gras commemorated Stonewall. Much has changed in Australia since those brave “78ers” as they are known, marched, protested and changed the course of Australian history.
Hundreds of events occurred during the over two weeks of the WorldPride celebration, and here are the highlights of the experience.
Drag queen bingo 40,000 feet in the air? A menu specially made for Sydney World Pride? Live performances, curated queer films and a preflight party? Qantas’ Pride Flight from Los Angeles to Sydney offered this and more. This reporter arrived at LAX only to be ushered into Qantas’ lounge and greeted by smiling drag queens, never-ending sparkling wine and a rainbow carpet. Past the step and repeat, fellow travelers gathered to mingle and enjoy snacks and performances by Australian artists G-Flip, comedian Joel Creasey and singer/actor Hugh Sheridan.
Crew and entertainers have a parade aboard the Qantas Pride Flight. Video: Dana Piccoli
Guests eventually changed into their official Qantas Pride Flight pajamas and took to the skies for the 15 hour flight. (You’d be surprised how quickly the time passes when you are having a blast.) Australian makeup brand MECCA MAX provided swag bags and in-flight makeup lessons. (Those wipes and eye cream came in handy during the long trip.) Members of Qantas Illuminate, the LGBTQ+ employee and ally group, were on board, making sure all were well-fed and taken care of on the way to Sydney. Flyers who booked a seat on the Pride Flight also scored tickets to the sold-out” Live and Proud: Sydney WorldPride Opening Concert”.
Flying the rainbow skies was a real treat.
Before every event, from large-scale production to smaller, more intimate events, respect was given to the custodians of the land the event was taking place on. Hosts, performers, Sydney WorldPride staff, all paid tribute to the Gadigal, Cammeraygal, Bidjigal, Darug, Dharawal people. While the language may have changed slightly depending on the event and where it took place, the sentiment was always there: “We pay our Respects to their Elders past and present. Always was Always will be Aboriginal Land.”
Scenes from “Live and Proud,” the kickoff to Sydney WorldPride. Video courtesy of Sydney World Pride.
The opening night “Live and Proud” concert showcased talent from Australia and beyond, welcoming performers like Electric Fields, Jessica Mauboy and Australia’s highest-selling female artist of all time (and huge LGBTQ+ ally), Kylie Minogue. Hosted by international drag superstar and Brisbane-born Courtney Act and Casey Donovan, the concert attracted thousands of revelers decked out in their finest rainbow outfits and glitter for days. The production values were top-notch and included a special drone show and fireworks. A bombastic tribute to “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” brought out dancers and drag queens to celebrate the beloved Australian film, which will be celebrating 30 years since release in 2024.
Certainly, Kylie Minogue was the big draw of the night. Minogue first played during Sydney’s Mardi Gras back in 1994 and has long been an ally and icon in the queer community. Minogue and her troupe of dancers performed her big hits including “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and “All the Lovers” on which she was joined by sister Dannii, who is also a beloved figure in the country.
While many events at large Pride celebrations tend to cater to mixed crowds or a primarily gay male audience, UltraViolet created a space for queer women and their friends to dance the night away as well. Taking place at Sydney’s stunning Town Hall, a 130-year landmark made of Sydney sandstone and featuring the largest pipe organ this reporter has ever seen, Ultraviolet took over the entire space with three different party vibes: an outside terrace for dancing and mingling, a lower level with DJs and dance music beats and the main floor with live performances. Produced by Sveta Gilerman and Jess Hill, the event featured performances by Jesswar, Bec Sandridge and Okenyo, plus aerialists and bawdy burlesque. There was even an impromptu rendition of “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” performed much to the crowd’s delight by Sydney WorldPride CEO Kate Wickett and “Kath and Kim” star and activist Magda Szubanski.
The main event was by electroclash artist Peaches, known for her unapologetic lyrics and subversive performances. Peaches did not disappoint as she crowd-surfed, stripped down and into a bathing suit, danced and sang her hits to a rapturous audience.
Sydney is a true art city. Murals appear across the city, while art museums (with free admission) feature the work of Australian artists and beyond. At the Art Gallery of New South Wales, rainbow placards appeared next to art created by LGBTQ+ artists for the “Queer Encounters” and “Queering the Collection” exhibitions. Contemporary LGBTQ+ artists like Dennis Golding, whose work “Casting Shadows” greeted visitors upon entrance, were featured alongside queer and trans artists who have long passed. Too often, artists were forced to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity, only to have history forget these important parts of them. Works like “The Bay” by 20th-century lesbian artist Thea Proctor and “By Tranquil Waters” by Sydney Long finally get the context they deserve.
Next door at the North Building, LGBTQ+ artists are featured in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art collections and “Dreamhome: stories of art and shelter.”
At Powerhouse Ultimo, the “Absolutely Queer” exhibition was initially curated for Syndey WorldPride but has plans to continue through the end of the year. “Absolutely Queer” is a collection of costuming, multimedia works and more, all centering on the LGBTQ+ experience. Artists and creators Nicol & Ford, Renè Rivas and Sexy Galexy are all featured in this colorful exhibition that looks back on our history, with an eye also cast toward the future.
Powerhouse curator Anni Turnbull was part of the team putting together “Absolutely Queer” and shared her enthusiasm for having WorldPride taking place in Sydney. “It’s kind of an enormous celebration,” Turnbull said. “It’s so important to recognize our queer history, to recognize how far we’ve come in the last 38-40 years in terms of people’s rights. And I think the way it’s been done is so joyous.”
Oxford Street, the heart of Sydney’s queer district, was covered in murals by artist Amy Blue, commissioned by the City of Sydney. The murals, which also served as a clever way to cover up construction and scaffolding, featured important people and places in Sydney’s LGBTQ+ history.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge is another iconic landmark in the city and one of the major arteries through the heart of Sydney. On the final day of Sydney WorldPride, 50,000 marches rose early with the magpies and ibis to participate in the historic event. With participants from around the world, the march kicked off and traversed across the bridge.
A group from Dhaka, Bangladesh marched with a banner representing their region. “We are here to march for those who cannot march in our country,” one of the Dhaka members shared. This was a common refrain, recognizing our LGBTQ+ community in countries where being gay or transgender is illegal or oppressed.
The Rainbow Serpent made its final appearance, leading the march, followed by the 78ers and World Pride 2025 hosts, the delegation from Washington, DC.
I caught up with artist Renè Rivas at the end of the walk to get his thoughts about the WorldPride experience. Rivas is a renowned artist and designer of Mardis Gras fashions. Originally from El Salvador, Rivas came to Australia as a refugee as part of the Family Reunion Program in the 1980s.
“For me, this is a dream come true to be able to be open to the world,” said Rivas. “In Australia, we welcome all kind of communities and we really embrace the diverse culture that we have.”
Rivas also had a message he wanted to share with the global community. “Don’t be afraid of who you are. That happened to me many years ago. Now my costumes are at the Powerhouse Museum and I travel around the world being able to express myself.”
All good things must come to an end, and at the Sydney WorldPride closing ceremony, people gathered one last time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and applaud all those who worked hard to put on such a large, diverse and meaningful event. Before Muna, Kim Petras and Ava Max took the stage, CEO Kate Wickett, Festival Creative Director Ben Graetz and Graham Simms (also known as the iconic Nana Miss Koori) welcomed members of the Washington DC Capital Pride team. DC WorldPride will take place May 23-June 8 2025, and marks 50 years of Pride in DC.
It will be hard to top Sydney WorldPride, but it’s clear that the next event is in extremely capable and enthusiastic hands. In the meanwhile, Sydney and New South Wales have once again established themselves as a major destination for safe, welcoming and exciting LGBTQ+ travel.
This article originally appeared in News is Out.