I waited with my float for our turn to depart down Oxford Street, the jubilance and excitement around me creating an energy in the air. It was one of defiance in being ourselves, in a world that still judges individuals harshly for being different, and of celebration as this was a party celebrating all of us.
This was my first time attending the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. My first time being in the parade. I had never even watched it on TV. I had no idea what to expect. But I could feel the positivity running through me and everyone around me.
I was part of a float for Positive Life NSW, an organisation supporting those who have HIV. This is something close to my heart as HIV Positive person who has seen first hand how HIV can seemingly ‘ruined lives’ through the stigma in the community and in ourselves. Our float was intended to show that HIV is still out there, it’s manageable, and people with HIV can live happy, productive fabulous lives. It’s okay to be proud and to have HIV.
But, I soon found myself there for an entirely different reason.
As the ’78ers departed in from of me, sitting and standing on the roof of a bus, I noticed their faces. Many were happy, many proud. Some were overwrought with emotion at what they had started almost 40 years ago had grown into what it had. Suddenly I realised. What had become a march for LGTBIQ pride became a march for my pride. I was proud of my openness and acceptance of myself. I’d never before let myself feel this way – being afraid of indulging in narcissism. But heck, I was proud. So very very proud.
As our float left, and I held our Positive Life NSW banner along with two others, and the crowd cheered and clapped I knew what I had been working towards in the past year and a bit. I was finally not only okay with who I was, I was proud of who I was. Proud of my mistakes, proud of my successes, proud of my fortitude.
As we paraded along Oxford Street, I got more and more comfortable with this new feeling and I began to encourage the crowd along with others in the float. I no longer cared if I looked silly, if I was judged, if there were those who were uncomfortable with being HIV Positive and happy.
We must have only walked for less than an hour but it felt like an eternity. At eternity that will forever be etched into my sense of self.
I can’t wait to be a part of it again next year – whether as spectator or as part of a float.