There's no dragging the heels on this march

There's no dragging the heels on this march

IT IS the drag queens who usually get the glory, thanks to their preposterous hairdos, their impossible shoes and their blinding outfits - not to forget how practised they are at stealing the limelight.

And on Sunday, at the 18th annual Pride March in St Kilda, it was little different: there they were in small but obvious numbers, doing their best pouts for the cameras, smartphones and TV crews.

Something else, though, was also on the spectators' minds. It was the footballers, the sportspeople, the families and the large numbers of gay and lesbian police officers who drew the applause and admiration of the crowds lining Fitzroy Street - the courage of everyday people to be themselves and stand up for equality, for themselves or their loved ones.

Young gay Yarra Glen footballer Jason Ball led the march to applause, supported by the first two AFL footballers to ever go in the parade - Richmond player Daniel Jackson and Carlton's Brock McLean. McLean spoke out last week about his sister's coming-out struggles, while Jackson was moved to march as a supporter as well. Both hoped to make the game more inclusive and a safer place for gay men.

''Jason Ball has started a snowball of action,'' Pride March president Shane Marquis told the crowd at the start of the march, the biggest since it started in 1996, with more than 120 groups marching, most of them with 20 or more members.


Ball read out letters of strong support from the AFL Coaches Association and the Richmond Football Club, saying he was particularly proud of Jackson and McLean.

''You guys are heroes to me, thank you for being a part of this today,'' he said. To his teammates from Yarra Glen Football Club, also marching with him, he said he would not have had the courage to come out publicly without their support.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Tim Cartwright told the crowd that with 60 officers marching, it was the largest-ever police contingent.

''I want to to say to our officers and to the wider community that we support gay pride,'' he said. ''It is a bit sad, however, that a lot of our research tells us we still have a long way to go. It suggests that family violence in the gay and lesbian community is greatly under-reported and it also suggests that there is still plenty of gay-hate crime out there.

''And even more saddening is a lack of confidence, a lack of willingness to come forward and report those crimes.''

The march, he said, helped fight those problems and give the clear message that such targeting would not be tolerated.

This year's march, thanks to the football issue and the continuing debate over marriage equality, had a strong political edge. Organisers gave a big welcome to Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews, who on Sunday announced that a Labor government would expunge convictions made against gay men who were prosecuted under discriminatory laws taken off the statute books 30 years ago.

''I could not be more proud to be here and march with you today,'' Mr Andrews said. ''The battle against bigotry - there's a lot of important work to be done. I am proud to be someone who stood up at our party's national conference and voted strongly and lobbied hard for marriage equality. I am saddened that our national Parliament couldn't take what is in many respects the next and most important step - that step, its time will come, and those of us who support equality, not only in that regard but in so many other ways, will continue to be with you in that fight.''

Carl Katter, the gay brother of federal MP Bob Katter, said on Sunday that he had resigned as Victorian convener of Australian Marriage Equality to focus on a political career in the ALP.


''When there is blatant bigotry and discrimination and homophobia, in Australia it just shouldn't be like that,'' Mr Katter said.

''Australians, I think, are a lot better than that. I think parties like Katter's Australia Party overestimate the propensity of certain groups in society to hate. But it hasn't proven that successful - I consider them a fringe party from north Queensland.''

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