The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of the biggest LGBTI festivals in the world.
This year it’s celebrating its 40th birthday, so the celebrations are sure to go longer and harder than ever before.
The world famous street parade and after party – where Cher is headlining – are happening on Saturday 3 March.
Organizers are expecting close to 500,000 people at the parade and 13,000 people are going to the sold out after party.
Even Sydney’s strict lock-out laws have been relaxed for the events, which means the Mardi Gras party will last long into the night and even more reason to play safe.
But LGBTI health advocates want to remind people to look after themselves and their friends during Mardi Gras season. They say it’s especially important to be safe in relation to HIV, sexual health, alcohol and other drugs, and street safety.
ACON, a LGBTI health organization has released some top tips to stay safe and healthy at Mardi Gras.
‘The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is all about celebrating our communities and having a great time doing it,’ said. ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said.
‘Playing safe will help partygoers have a much more enjoyable Mardi Gras experience.’
Top 7 Mardi Gras tips:
1. Practice safe sex in three different ways
ACON will have 60,000 free condom packs at LGBTI venues and events during Mardi Gras making it the cheapest and easiest way to stay safe.
The organization also said if a person is HIV negative and on PrEP they should continue to take it in the lead up to Mardi Gras.
If a person is HIV positive, they should find out what their viral loads are.
‘It’s now proven beyond doubt that HIV treatments can help reduce that person’s viral load to an undetectable level (UVL), making it almost impossible to transmit the virus,’ Parkhill said.
‘There’s no longer a one size fits all approach to safe sex. We can now choose from a range of strategies – condoms, PrEP or UVL – to maximise sexual pleasure while protecting ourselves and our partners from HIV.’
To find out more visit www.endinghiv.org.au.
2. PEP – Act Quickly!
If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, PEP may prevent you becoming infected – if you act quickly.
‘PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) is a course of anti-HIV medications taken over a four week period, but needs to be started as soon as possible after exposure – within 72 hours.
‘PEP is NOT a substitute for safe sex – using condoms is always the best prevention,’ Parkhill said.
More information is available in Australia via the 24-hour PEP Hotline: 1800 737 669.
3. Actually, get tested – know for sure
Knowing your HIV status is also an important way to play safe at Mardi Gras. Knowing your HIV status means you can take action to look after your health and the health of your partners.
It might be a daunting proposition, but ACON operates a permanent rapid HIV testing facilities. One is on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst along with services in Surry Hills, Newtown and Kings Cross.
a[TEST] Oxford St is located at 167 Oxford Street, Sydney, and is open from 11am – 7pm, Monday to Saturday.
People can walk in or make an appointment by visiting www.atest.org.au.
4. Alcohol and Drugs – Reduce Harm
If you plan to drink a lot of alcohol or take recreational drugs, try and minimize the risk associated with taking those substances. For example, mixing G with alcohol has been a main cause of overdoses.
Find out as much as you can about what you’re taking and tell someone you trust what you’ve taken. Get medical help straight away if you’re having any problems.
Also, the ACON Rovers will be at all the major parties to help people experiencing any difficulties.
You can find more safety tips regarding alcohol and other drug use and advice about partying safely via ACON’s Pivot Point website: pivotpoint.org.au.
5. Cervical and Sexual Health Screening
The rate of people who are LGBTI and have a cervix getting a proper screening is very low.
The new the Check OUT clinic is now open for testing.
‘As we have learnt from our successful a[TEST] clinics, peer leadership can be beneficial as it may make some people feel more comfortable and less anxious when talking to a peer about cervical screening and sexual health,’ Parkhill said.
‘Our new Check OUT Clinic will be offering free [for Medicare card holders] or low cost, confidential sexual health and cervical screening services for LGBTIQ people.
For more information visit: www.theinnercircle.org.au.
6. Fair Play – Know Your Rights
There will be a lot of police around at some Mardi Gras events. They’ll have sniffer dogs and will conduct personal searches for drugs.
If police want to search you, it’s best to cooperate and not show aggression as this behaviour has sometimes resulted in charges against people.
Partygoers who want to understand their legal rights better during the Mardi Gras season the can ask one of the Fair Play volunteers.
They’re there to provide information on rights and legal support, offer emotional support and monitor police operations.
Information about rights and safety is available on the Fair Play website: www.fair-play.org.au.
7. Street Safety – Report Violence
Even though Sydney is a very gay friendly city, homophobic and transphobic violence still happens, even during Mardi Gras season.
Minimize the chances of this happening by travelling to and from venues with friends, avoid responding to abusive behaviour as this can escalate violence, and get to a safe place if they you threatened.
‘All violence and harassment should be reported to police for immediate action because if the types of violence are on the public record, then agencies such as ACON can lobby for improved security for our community,’ Parkhill said.
Information on reporting violence to the police or to ACON is available on the ACON website: www.acon.org.au/what-we-are-here-for/safety-inclusion/