Hey, it’s Rae, your lovable CEO over here at Origami Customs. I don’t often share my personal stories, but today I wanted to share something recent that rocked my world- attending WorldPride in Sydney, Australia.
My husbandwife (our non-binary term for spouse) Dibs is originally from Australia, and this year we were finally able to go back to visit their family, after years of not being able to travel. If finally traveling wasn’t joy enough, heading to Australia this winter had the added bonus of coinciding with WorldPride, giving us an incredible opportunity to connect with queer fam on the other side of the globe.
Before attending WorldPride in person I didn’t know that it was something that should’ve been on my bucket list. But now having been, I cannot express to you the joy of what it felt like to be surrounded by such a vibrant and powerful community. I didn’t know that the experience was something I needed, but I’m blown away and my heart is filled by having been.
What are WorldPride and Sydney Mardi Gras?
For those who have never heard of WorldPride, it’s a global event that chooses a new host city every 2-3 years. It’s the world’s biggest LGBTQIA+ celebration, hosting over 500,000 people. Think of it like the Olympics, only with a lot more rainbows!
The point of WorldPride is to internationally promote awareness and visibility of LGBTQIA+ issues and to celebrate our beautiful and unique community. It has unforgettable events, pride marches, parades, concerts, talks, gatherings, and a human rights conference.
This year the host city was Sydney, marking the first time a city in the southern hemisphere was chosen. The dates of WorldPride aligned with the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras' 45th anniversary, and the 5th anniversary of same-sex marriage in Australia.
*It’s also important to state that Sydney WorldPride and Mardi Gras took place on the lands of the Traditional Custodians of the Sydney Basin: the Darug, Cammeraygal, Gadigal, Bidjigal, Dharawal people.
The famous Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a massive event in and of itself. These days it may be a celebration, but it wasn’t always one. The first event started in 1978 as a protest march to commemorate the Stonewall riots in New York City and to demand equal rights and recognition for the LGBTIQ+ community in Australia.
As with the beginning of many Pride movements, the first Mardi Gras in Sydney was a gay rights march met with violence and arrests by the police. Over the years it has evolved into a joyful celebration of diversity and inclusion. Now it’s world-famous and attracts visitors from around the globe.
Sydney Mardi Gras has become an important symbol of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in Australia and a celebration of the community's diversity and resilience. The event has played a significant role in promoting greater social acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ+ issues in Australia and continues to inspire people to advocate for equality and inclusion.
What it meant for me to be at WorldPride in 2023
I’m not going to say this lightly- representing Origami Customs at World Pride/ Mardi Gras this year was a personal and professional pinnacle. The whole event felt over-the-top supportive and fulfilling, and it wasn’t just the relief of connecting after the last three years of the pandemic.
With covid, taking care of each other on an individual level had been the priority over the last three years, and many of us experienced isolation and trauma. It's still important to continue being mindful of transmission, but we’re starting to find ways to connect with others and build community while also being responsible and taking precautions.
There has been a definitive shift from the isolation and dissociation of the past few years, and I truly felt it all during Pride. I was met with huge smiles and words of welcome from people of every letter of the acronym.
These were folks who went through the covid pandemic with the memory of the AIDS crisis not too long behind them, who drew from that mutual aid model to keep each other safe. As much as we know how to stay safe and reduce harm, we also know how to celebrate, because we know how short life can be.
Like most of us, I had craved that feeling for so long- of being in a crowd of people who know what it’s like to be in a gender or sexual minority. The sense of belonging and connection that comes from being part of a community that understands and shares your experiences can be incredibly powerful and healing.
This is truly what Pride is about- coming together to celebrate our lives and remember that we are not only as worthy as our cis and hetero counterparts, but that we have such incredible things to offer. Our identities and our gifts add so much to the diversity and the rainbow of the world.
Being surrounded by thousands of people in their full and joyful expressions helped me touch base with my inner purpose. It reminded me why I do what I do, and that my greatest joy is to make products that help this community feel this supported and vibrant every day. It was nourishing, inspiring, and energizing.
Origami Customs in Dykes on Bikes
At WorldPride Dibs and I had the unreal honor of being part of the historic Dykes on Bikes Contingent in the Mardi Gras parade. It was a moment I’ll never forget!
It wasn’t just the thrill of being in the parade surrounded by a bunch of badasses, but Dykes on Bikes were a group that I always looked up to as an example of functional community activism. It was so special to feel included and be reminded of the amazing ways our community can make a difference.
Dykes on Bikes began during a time our queer community was at higher risk for daily violence. The motorcycle club started ushering the parade protesters down Oxford street in 1990, a time when these women were used to waiting outside gay bars to take folks home who were at risk of being attacked on the street. You can feel that importance still today, as 300 bikes waited to clear the streets for the floats and parade participants.
As Leslie Hudson said:
“We roamed the streets in about 1990 doing street patrol to protect and help people who were, you know, getting bashed or being attacked on their way home, so there was a big contingent of us who sat up there in Taylor Square.”
These incredible humans are a reminder of how we can come together to keep each other safe. Being a part of it (even if I wasn’t riding my own bike…yet!) made me feel like I was a part of that rich history. Everyone was also so kind and caring. Hanging out with these incredible powerhouses would’ve been worth the trip even if we weren’t in the parade.
Their recent inclusion policy also made me feel like I was seen as a part of them without sacrificing my non-binary identity! Now, it’s for anyone who does or used to identify as a Dyke. Even waiting six hours in the heat for the parade to start felt like nothing when you were surrounded by such a family of warm, caring individuals.
The WorldPride Human Rights Convention
One of my favorite things about WorldPride is that it’s not just a party! While it is a place to come and celebrate, there are also incredible events where you can go to learn and broaden your understanding of some of the issues that affect our community.
One of the events I loved the most was the International Human Rights Conference. I was lucky enough to get tickets for the last day (after being rejected as a panelist, boo 😉). I heard from speakers across the world who are at the forefront of activism and championing human rights causes.
The Human Rights Conference featured the Asia Pacific region's largest gathering of LGBTQIA+ rights advocates, community members, government officials, philanthropists, and corporate leaders. Its goal is “to foster a world that is safe, free, and equitable for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or biological sex.”
One thing that’s amazing about the event is that they try their best to book a diverse range of speakers from various backgrounds. The Conference invites First Nations leaders, grassroots campaigners, policymakers, prominent advocates, individuals who identify as transgender or gender diverse, pride leaders, change-makers, officials, academics, and researchers.
This kind of diversity in representation can help ensure that a broad range of perspectives are heard and that the issues faced by marginalized communities are adequately addressed. Such events play an important role in fostering a sense of community and raising awareness about the challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals in the region and beyond.
Personality I had two talks that really touched me. One was a panelist of disability activists speaking about “nothing for us without us” in the disability justice communities of Sydney and beyond. It was powerful to hear some perspectives and solutions regarding the inclusion of disabled people.
I also heard the creator of Rainbow Railroad (who we recently donated to on Valentine’s Day) host the closing panel with speakers like Tuisina Ymania Brown, whose passionate speech on not just decolonizing our work, but ourselves (you can watch a clip of that in my reels).
Origami Customs Community Partnerships in Australia
During Pride and my Australia trip, I got a chance to connect with so many folks that I align with, both in fashion and to groups serving queer and trans communities here. I made personal connections and even started meaningful new business partnerships with some of them!
Thanks to my Australian partner, Dibs from Dibs Fitness (who offers accessible and gender-affirming personal training), and the incredible Pride events, I was able to immediately connect with meaningful queer communities. Within this network were so many wonderful humans doing important work that was so aligned with how both Dibs and I strive to run our businesses!
You may have seen the podcast episode I did with Deb (she/her) from Shane Ave- they’re a fantastic custom suiting company that is geared towards queer, trans, and gender non-conforming folks who want to look sharp in custom-tailored suiting. Deb also just launched Mecks, a genderless brand of daywear. I got to go to the launch party/ fashion show, which was a great excuse to wear the one suit jacket I brought with me!
Another amazing group of people doing *the work* is Bec (she/her) and Erin (they/them) of Sock Drawer Heroes. They’ve started Sydney’s first in-person (and online) shop for gender-affirming products, clothing, books, and more. They’ve been stocking our gaffs for a while now, and it was so awesome to hang out with them and see how they found out just what their community needed and created a company that would fill that niche.
Shoutout to Andy (they/them) of Amor Binders- we kept just missing each other, but I’m sure we will sit down to talk shop one day! Their sensory-friendly binders are such a great and needed option for our community!
Until Next Time
Before attending WorldPride I had no idea what I was getting into. It’s easy to view it as a party, but it’s so much more. Being in Sydney and representing Origami Customs at so many community events made me realize what it’s all about. I came out of those three weeks feeling connected, happier, inspired, and more educated on community issues.
Being a part of a group of global activists made me re-commit to my ethics in running this business. I will continue to strive to always be an ethical, feminist, and disability-friendly corporation, with support for queer and trans people at the core of its intention.
WorldPride reminded me why I do this thing. We’re not just a fashion brand. We’re another beautifully vibrant color contributing to the incredible and powerful rainbow that makes up our community.