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|August 23, 2000||
Church groups denounce 'gay' GamesBrian Williams in Sydney
Sydney Olympic organisers said on Wednesday drag queens will appear in the closing ceremony of the Games, setting off outrage among church groups.
In what was hailed as a major breakthrough for gay rights with the first open display of homosexuality at an Olympic ceremony, Games chief Michael Knight said the flamboyant drag queens would be part of a segment on Australian films.
His announcement set off a flood of calls to talk-back radio stations with many listeners denouncing a celebration of the Australian gay icon film "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", as endorsing a homosexual lifestyle.
There was elation in Sydney's vibrant homosexual community which annually stages the world's largest gay parade.
"This is the first time gays have openly gone on display at an Olympics," drag queen performer Sally (Trevor) Bunney of the Sydney suburb of Randwick told Reuters.
"This decision has brought people out of the dark ages and it shows that people are getting more tolerant of gay people."
Roman Catholic church spokesman Father Brian Lucas said inclusion of drag queens did not reflect the values of either Australia or the Olympics.
"I think most fair minded people in the community would hardly think that it would reflect the values of the Olympic Game," he told the Sydney Telegraph.
A spokeswoman for the New South Wales Council of Churches said drag queens were only a "small sub-culture" of Australian society.
"Some deeply religious countries may be offended by a depiction of homsexuality and gender crossing," she said.
Knight said the drag queens, some wearing original gowns from "Priscilla", were solely in the October one closing ceremony as part of a segment celebrating Australian film.
The Australian hit, which won the 1995 Oscar for best costume design, told the story of a group of drag queens on a bus journey through outback Australia.
"In the closing ceremony there is one short segment that pays tribute to great Australian movies," Knight told ABC radio.
He mentioned "Babe", "Crocodile Dundee", "Strictly Ballroom" and "Mad Max" as other examples.
Both Knight and ceremony director Ric Birch insisted drag queen participation was not a celebration of gay culture.
"There is no celebration of drag or drag queens or the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras or homosexuality in the closing ceremony," Knight said.
Birch said between 40 and 200 drag queens would take part.
He responded angrily to "right wing reactionaries" who might object to the presence of drag queens.
"This element of the show is only a tiny part of a huge celebration and for the right wing reactionaries, or whatever part of a community is outraged about it, they're always going to be outraged," he said.
"I'm not sure if they've noticed there is a gay and lesbian Mardi Gras parade that takes place in Sydney watched by hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders and which attracts a huge international contingent.
"That's part of Sydney life whether they like it or not - it's part of Sydney."
Despite Australia's image as a macho society, Sydney has a thriving homosexual community with its annual gay Mardi Gras attended by up to one million people.
The Sydney Morning Herald, which prompted Knight to disclose the drag queens' participation by running a front page article on the issue based on leaks from the gay community, said Games organisers had wanted those chosen to sign confidentiality agreements about their participation.
It said there was also a possibility that the closing ceremony would feature a group of "muscle Marys" -- well-toned gay men performing alongside the drag queens.
Mail Sports Editor
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