Russia's anti-gay stance blasted
Sydney's gay and lesbian Mardi Gras has taken aim at Russia for its anti-homosexual propaganda laws, with a parade aimed at showing the regime's discriminatory polices won't float with an Australian audience.
Amid the bright lights, dancing surf life savers, bikies and angels at the 37th annual parade stood a ten-foot, bobble-headed Vladimir Putin float.
"I am very much so proud to be part of this float," said Tim, who didn't give a last name, on whose shoulders rested the Russian president's massive head.
"I think it'd be a great opportunity to protest anti-gay laws, so I wanted to be part of it myself."
While the float - titled From Russia with Love - condemned Russia's views, it was also used to send love to the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
Sydney's Hyde Park was teeming on Saturday night with hundreds of thousands of revellers dressed in a rainbow of colours - everything from gay pride cowboy dancers to bright blue cast members from the movie Avatar.
Sydney Mayor Clover Moore said before the parade that the event, which is known for its fun, was still capable of stirring up political debate.
"There's room for very serious political comment in Mardi Gras," she said.
"Everyone is quite alarmed about what's happening in Russia, what's happening in Nigeria and Pakistan.
"This is a global event, the biggest of its kind in the world and it's good to make those statements."
Actress and comedian Magda Szubanski says while Australia is more tolerant towards homosexuality, it is not smooth sailing.
"One recent study shows the incidents of attempted suicide among LGBTI youth is six times higher than in the straight community," she said.
"As much as it's important that we protest Sochi and what's going on in Russia, we have to be mindful that things aren't too great here.
"Speaking as a gay observer, things have a life of their own and at the moment there does seem to be a political focus."
This year's parade - the second largest event in Sydney after New Year's Eve - is bigger than in 2013, with a record 144 floats making the journey down Oxford and Flinders streets amid an estimated 10,000 marchers.
The footpaths of Oxford St were packed with an estimated 300,000 people pressing against barriers along a two kilometre stretch to see the parade.
The popular favourites Dykes on Bikes kicked off early celebrations with a roaring ride up and down Oxford at 7pm, warming the crowds up for the main event.
Among the parade's eccentric features was a nine-metre Strictly Mardi Gras trailer complete with a 98-member cast.
One of the forces behind the float, Strictly Ballroom director Baz Luhrmann, also attended the parade, along with performers Delta Goodrem and Tina Arena.
Federal MP Penny Wong also marched in the parade.
Extra police - those not on duty on the NSW police float - were deployed across the CBD to monitor the influx of visitors.