Image: Gay Mardi Gras marchers
Rob Griffith  /  AP
Thai men march during the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday.
updated 3/7/2009 9:09:24 AM ET 2009-03-07T14:09:24

Revelers decked out in sequins, feathers, wigs and leather danced through the streets of Sydney on Saturday to the cheers of more than 300,000 people at the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

More than 130 floats and 9,500 people participated in the procession, which began as a protest march in 1978 by homosexual and transsexual men and women and has flourished into one of the world's largest and most flamboyant gay pride events.

"I am totally in my element," said a transsexual who identified herself as Gummi Cat. "This is my first year being in the parade and I am absolutely loving it," she said from a carriage pulled by a man dressed in little more than a black leather harness.

The parade kicked off with Olympic gold medal diver Matthew Mitcham, who stood atop the first float surrounded by male dancers dressed in Speedos and carrying scorecards.

Lifeguards, cheerleaders, nurses and sports teams strutted and spun to their floats' music. Banks, schools and churches were represented, as were the Australian Federal Police, the Defense Department and state firefighters. All of the marchers, whether flamboyant in feathers and high heels or wearing their official work uniforms, were grinning ear-to-ear as they waved to the crowd.

Six-hour wait for best spots
Spectators waited for up to six hours for prime viewing spots along the 1.5-mile route of the 31st annual parade. Many were packed 10 rows thick along the sidewalk along the main thoroughfare Oxford Street, which was lined with metal barricades and manned by police and parade officials.

"I'm blown away. It's been amazing," said 75-year-old Peg Low, who waved a rainbow flag next to a barricade near the front of the parade route and attracted hugs from a few brightly dressed and heavily eyelashed marchers.

Low came from Queensland state to attend the parade in memory of her son, Stephen, who died of AIDS 15 years ago.

"I'm so happy because all our gay friends made this work, created something so wonderful," the white-haired woman said.

Joan Rivers participates
American TV personality Joan Rivers, in town for her one-woman comedy show, waved from atop a truck. Another float was dedicated to slain U.S. gay rights activist Harvey Milk, the subject of a movie last year starring Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for his role.

This year's parade theme was "Nations United," a tribute to homosexuals around the world, particularly in countries where they cannot live openly.

In Australia last year, lawmakers passed legislation giving homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexuals, though they have not legalized same-sex marriages.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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