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|August 23, 2000||
Drag queens drag macho Aussies forwardBrian Williams in Sydney
It seems appropriate, if ironic, that an advance for gay rights in sport should come in a country that prides itself on its macho image.
When organisers of Sydney's Olympics decided to include drag queens in the October 1 closing ceremony, the first open involvement of gays in an Olympic event, they knew it would ruffle feathers.
Australia is a nation that lives for sport, seeing in it traditional values that do not include public homosexuality among its sports stars.
The Olympics provide Australia, world champions in rugby and cricket, with a great opportunity to show the world what a healthy, outdoor, sporting lifestyle can achieve.
Now Sydney may also be remembered for being the Games in which the Olympic movement accepted homosexuals.
Church groups and far right politicians say the inclusion of drag queens in the Olympic jamboree, no matter how indirectly, could make Sydney the "homosexual capital of the world".
"This blatant condoning of a public homosexual display during the closing ceremony will not enhance the Olympic Games nor Australia as host to the Games," said New South Wales parliamentarian, Reverend Fred Nile.
"Homosexual and lesbian behaviour is not a true representation of Australian culture and lifestyle. Drag queens do not truly represent our great Aussie culture at all."
The irony is that many Sydneysiders proudly believe their city is already the world's gay capital.
They boast the largest gay parade, an annual Mardi Gras that attracts up to one million people from around the globe.
The parade in February or March is estimated to earn nearly A$100 million (US$60 million) a year, generating more income than any other cultural or sporting event in Australia -- including the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
In two years time Sydney will host the sixth International Gay Games when 14,000 competitors -- 4,000 more than the Olympics -- will descend on the city.
Stuart Borrie, sports director of the Gay Games, could not say how many competitors in the 2000 Olympics were gay but expected some of them to "come out" and join the Gay Games.
"Athletes are very nervous about admitting to being gay while participating in such a major event," he told Reuters.
"Gays and lesbians are pretty much invisible in international sport because they are very wary about loss of income. But once the Olympics are over we could expect more high-profile support."
It is not just public attitudes towards the city's gay community which have changed since the Mardi Gras started in 1978 as a small, protest event.
Companies have realised the potential of the Pink Dollar, and some travel agents cater solely for a gay clientele.
In Sydney's gay magazines and newspapers like Outrage, Capital Q and the Star Observer, advertisers such as Motorola, ANZ Bank, airline Qantas, and car makers Ford and Volkswagen target the gay market with adverts featuring same sex couples.
Marketing consultancy Significant Others estimates the pre-tax earnings of Australia's gay market at about A$36 billion.
Ian Johnson, founder of Significant Others, said it was estimated six percent of Australia's population aged over 17 were gay, about 813,000 in a country with a total population of about 20 million.
Mail Sports Editor
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