Sound the klaxons and blast the confetti cannons: WorldPride is coming to Sydney next year for its first outing (no pun intended) in the southern hemisphere. Launched in Rome more than two decades ago – you can imagine how that went down – it’s become a regular tradition that, from this year on, is set to go annual.
Taking place over two weeks in February and March, it’ll basically feel like one giant Mardi Gras, with exhibitions, theatre and – of course – an embarrassment of parties, as well as a particular focus on queer First Nations artists. Here are 20 events to go to:
1. Mardi Gras parade
When: 25 February / Tickets: Free, or from $50 at viewing areas
First things first: the parade is moving back to Oxford Street. That sound you hear is the gust of 12,500 marchers sighing in relief. Farewell to the weird colosseum vibe of the Sydney Cricket Ground, where, for the past two years, people paid money to watch floats move around in circles like lost little Roombas. Hello again to the beloved street party, now in its 45th year. This time round, there’ll be new viewing stations along its route from Hyde Park to Moore Park – or just squeeze in roadside like the rest of us chumps.
2. Pride March
When: 5 March / Tickets: Free, balloted
And if you’re looking for other ways to increase your step count, you can participate in a very long walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge alongside 50,000 of your closest friends – both a celebration of queer visibility and a demand for LGBTQIA+ rights for our Asia-Pacific neighbours and beyond.
3. Live and Proud
When: 24 February / Tickets: From $119
For the opening concert at the Domain, WorldPride has booked an appropriately glitzy lineup: both Kylie and my personal Kylie, Charli XCX. Last time Charli played at the Domain – at 2020’s Laneway – it was bucketing and I felt like the only person dancing (gay) in a crowd full of Ocean Alley fans (straight); thankfully that will not be the case this time round. The British pop star will also be joined by Jessica Mauboy, with Courtney Act and Casey Donovan on hosting duties.
4. 24 Hour Grumble Boogie
When: 18 to 19 February / Tickets: From $20
As Betty Grumble, performance artist Emma Maye Gibson has been described as a sex clown, an obscene beauty queen and a pioneer of the “showgirl poo”; basically, she is a queer fever dream and/or Andrew Bolt’s nightmare (literally). Her work is lurid, brash and surges through you like a glitter-bomb to the vein, so it makes perfect sense that she’s hosting – as the name implies – a 24-hour dance party at Carriageworks which promises everything from meditative transcendence to 80s aerobics.
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5. Rainbow Republic
When: 5 March / Tickets: From $129
If you’re still alive by the end of it all, you can return to where it began for WorldPride’s closing festival, which – like its opening night – is happening once again at the Domain. US three-piece Muna are headlining this one, which means you can finally shout “SILK! … chiffon” without coming off a soft fabrics aficionado. Also on the lineup: local heart-throb Keiynan Lonsdale, Peach PRC – the pop ingenue behind some of TikTok’s most ear-wormy tracks – and G Flip. (Odds on a Chrishell appearance?)
6. Sissy Ball
When: 4 March / Tickets: From $65
Ballroom culture has certainly become more visible in Australia, with more and more families – alliances of performers bonded through sweat, tears and body paint – popping up around the place. But Sissy Ball remains its premiere event, providing an appropriately majestic arena – in this case, the cavernous Sydney Town Hall – for its competing queens to serve, vogue and death drop down the runway to snatch the crown for themselves. Tickets will sell out in a flash, and in the days preceding any Sissy Ball you’ll likely see dismayed punters begging and bartering for resales. To quote that other life-or-death battle, may the odds be ever in your favour.
7. Ultra Violet
When: 3 March / Tickets: From $169
Also in the Sydney Town Hall: Ultra Violet, a party for queer women headlined by pop iconoclast Peaches. Burlesque, cabaret and mustachioed drag performers will all be cavorting around the place to a music program that also includes Australian rappers Jesswar and Okenyo, both of whom make anthemic hip-hop full of feel-good flexes. If you miss this one, Peaches is also playing her seminal album The Teaches of Peaches in full at the City Recital Hall the next day – in celebration of its 20th anniversary.
8. Blessed Union
When: 11 February to 12 March / Tickets: From $37
If you meet your soulmate at Ultra Violet, definitely do not take them to Belvoir to see this lesbian divorce comedy, unless you are feeling extra secure in the state of your own blessed union. Ruth and Judith are a longtime couple living the queer dream: a house in Sydney’s inner west and a family who discuss politics over dinner. But, of course, it all comes undone – in truly diabolical fashion, if playwright Maeve Marsden’s previous work is anything to go by.
9. Paul Yore: Word Made Flesh
When: 5 January to 26 February / Tickets: Free
Somewhere in the world there is a very disappointed hen’s party who have gone to buy penis straws and found they’ve all been snapped up by artist Paul Yore. That “awful” paraphernalia (as he describes it in an interview with my colleague Sian Cain) is just one tiny element of detritus in an exhibition that also includes glitzed-up dildos, Happy Meal toys, and his body weight in sequins, all patched, glued and sewn together into intricate needlepoint works – as well as a towering neon dome and a hearse (yes, a hearse) pimped out to the nines. Yore’s work is replete with tongue-in-cheek slogans – “No homo”, “FML”, “Nothing is real” – emblazoning every bit of this career-spanning exhibition which features over 100 pieces across a decade of rudely grinning provocation.
10. Dylan Mooney
When: 8 February to 4 March / Tickets: Free
Dylan Mooney’s work radiates joy. The Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander artist draws the queer fantasies he never saw as a child: illustrations of Black men in intimate embraces, lips locked and arms draped over each other against night-time skies flecked with stars, or else flanked by native flora in vivid hues. In his exhibit at Paddington’s N Smith Gallery – titled Still Here and Thriving – he’ll be showing five large-scale portraits bursting with love.
11. Bloodlines: The Huxleys
When: 4 January to 5 March / Tickets: Free
Will and Garrett Huxley met in Melbourne as artists in 2006 and soon fell in love. Gross. Luckily for us, they also conjured up their outre, outsized artistic practice with the unassuming name: The Huxleys. Their work, which spans costume design, photography, video and performance, is nothing short of a queer fantasia, brimming with glimmering colours and winking pop cultural references. Bloodlines is their new exhibition at Carriageworks: an elegy to the queer artists lost to the HIV/Aids epidemic in the only way The Huxleys know how – via a big gay seance canonising the dead into modern-day saints.
12. Choir Boy
When: 14 February to 11 March / Tickets: From $55
This Tony award-winning play – penned by a writer of Moonlight – will strike a chord at Parramatta’s Riverside theatre. It’s the tale of a queer Black teen reckoning with his sexuality and how it tessellates with his religion, set against the backdrop of gospel hymns elevating an inner turmoil into a place of transcendence.
13. Switched On: Nakhane
When: 3 March / Tickets: From $59
Faith – both keeping it and losing it – is also at the centre of South African artist Nakhane’s music. The easy analogue is the tremendous, baroque pop of Perfume Genius – an artist with whom they’ve collaborated. In both musicians’ songs, gothic stylings give way to triumphant choruses setting the soul ablaze with an ecstatic self-affirmation. Nakhane spent most of their 20s as a devout Christian; like so many queer artists before them, they alchemist the trauma of that repression into the kind of catharsis you can only find on the dancefloor – or at the City Recital Hall.
When: 28 February to 4 March / Tickets: From $49
Gay bars and the jungle have a lot in common: both are wild, open spaces full of unfettered instinct; both are ruled by social power that could be toppled at any second. Helpmann award-winning troupe Shaun Parker & Company latch on to these commonalities in this new staging of a work they debuted at Mardi Gras in 2019, pitting a group of buffooning dancers against a soundtrack by the extremely camp Bulgarian singer Ivo Dimchev. Equal parts funny, tender and gay.
15. All the Sex I’ve Ever Had
When: 21 to 26 February / Tickets: From $35
These days, being a queer elder just means you’re 25, but here’s a show where actual queer elders share the stories and wisdom they’ve accrued after a lifetime of experiences – painful, embarrassing or just plain raunchy. It does exactly what it says on the tin, featuring tales that begin with sex, though where they end up is less predictable; deaths, pregnancies and life-altering crushes all get a look-in. Staged at Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Eternity Playhouse, this is a variation on a show which began over a decade ago, and has travelled around the world collecting tales of history colliding with the present.
16. Miss First Nation: Supreme Queen
When: 26 to 28 February / Tickets: From $29
While dancers duke it on stage, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander drag queens will be fighting for the supreme title in Miss First Nation, an annual drag event whose alumni include the Drag Race Down Under contestant Jojo Zaho, winner of the competition in 2017. There’ll be two days of heats, before one rowdy final on the last day. It’s all happening as part of Sydney WorldPride’s Marri Madung Butbut – a takeover of Carriageworks featuring First Nations work and discounted tickets for mob.
17. Roller Derby: Pride Fight
When: 17 February / Tickets: From $20
The extent of my sports spectatorship is my annual viewing of Whip It – hence this event. It’s just canon that roller derby is the gayest sport, and continuing that tradition is the Sydney Roller Derby League’s annual queer contest, which began in 2013 as The Battle of the Bent Track and has rebranded this year as the Pride Fight. Two teams – butch v femme (obviously) – will face off at the Hordern Pavilion, and there’ll be stalls from derby leagues around the country there as well, if you’re athletically inclined.
18. 2023 IGLFA Football World Championships
When: 20 to 23 February / Tickets: From $149
And for the extra athletic, the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association is hosting its world championships at Tempe Recreation Reserve. You can dob in everyone you know as a team, or register individually to be placed in one, then show off your inner Gay-vid Beckham (sorry) over four days of 11-a-side soccer tournaments with players from around the world.
19. Human Rights Conference
When: 1 to 3 March / Tickets: Free livestream, from $25 in-person
Meanwhile, for an event with no sex – but lots of brain – WorldPride is also hosting the largest LGBTQ+ human rights conference to ever be held in the southern hemisphere. Over three days, queer campaigners, leaders and community workers will coalesce at Sydney’s International Convention Centre to discuss the future of everything from inclusive sport to queer refugees. Speakers include Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN’s sexual orientation and gender identity expert; seminal Australian writer Dennis Altman, whose 1971 book Homosexual pioneered many concepts central to the gay liberation movement; and Yanzi Peng, who exposed the Chinese government’s forced conversion therapy practices. Most of the conference will be livestreamed too, for those who can’t make it.
20. Pink Salt
When: 18 February / Tickets: From $165
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Wow, I wish my three-course dinner was prepared by queer chefs!” … this is the ticket for you. At the Station in Newcastle, long banquet tables will be piled with plates cooked by the MasterChef alumnus Reece Hignell AKA Cakeboi, the seafood sensation Nornie Bero – behind Melbourne’s famous Mabu Mabu – and the experimental Christine Manfield. Alongside the feast, there’ll be a host of drag performances – as the saying goes, it’s not a snack; it’s a whole damn meal.