“Mardi Gras was made as a statement of pride, of visibility in the face of erasure, and for people to say we're here and we're proud, and we're going to be ourselves,” explains Student Liaison Officer Aadarsh Prasad.
That’s why we’re saying UTyeS to Mardi Gras 2018, with the university’s first float appearing in this year’s event.
Aadarsh and Equity and Diversity Project Officer Jess McGowan have been leading the charge, with architect and lighting specialist Michael Day heading up the design the float. Michael enlisted help from his colleagues in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, including architect and artist Mark Gerada, who created the float’s feature artwork.
“It’s very artistic, but it incorporates a lot of technology, and I think it embodies what UTS is very well,” says Aadarsh, who is also a social and political sciences student and the Queer Officer of the UTS Queer Collective.
Initially working with a small group, Jess says the team grew rapidly. Both she and Aadarsh shared a hope they could involve as many students and staff as possible, particularly those who identify as LGBTQIA+. They also wanted to ensure the float was as accessible as possible.
“We've been really specific about asking if anyone has any accessibility needs, and thinking about how that can work. We've created a partnership with Glow Worm Bicycles, which do electric bikes for those who want to be part of the float but can't walk the whole way,” says Jess.
“We're also doing a bit of work externally with fashion designers that are really body-positive. We want to subvert the notion that Mardi Gras is male-body-beautiful. It’s for everyone.”
For students like Aadarsh, the float is symbolic of our commitment to social justice, but also a reminder that UTS is a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people.
“It's us saying this is why we need to continue being proud of ourselves and our students who come from that experience,” says Aadarsh.
“We’re lucky enough to not have to campaign to fight our university, because the university is on our side and is receptive to the students' wants and needs. We don't have to always scream and shout for change to be made – we can just ask.”
Mardi Gras is only one example of our equity and diversity initiatives. UTS has the longest-running university Ally network in Australia and a well-established program to implement policy and training to better support, inform and celebrate sexuality and gender diversity. Jess also administrates the PROUD network – a 200-strong group for LGBTQIA+ staff.
“Most of my role is with staff, so I'm really excited to have a project that is student-focused,” she says. “Mardi Gras is fundamentally a celebration of inclusion, and our first-ever float is just one symbol of a much larger commitment to our diverse community.”