Colorful gay pride parade draws thousands of onlookers

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Led by a rainbow-colored Noah's Ark complete with pairs of dancing men in animal costumes, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade wound through the streets Saturday before a crowd expected to reach 750,000.

Led by a rainbow-colored Noah's Ark complete with pairs of dancing men in animal costumes, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade wound through the streets Saturday before a crowd expected to reach 750,000.

About 200 floats and 7,000 marchers took part in the parade, now in its 23rd year, which has grown from a civil rights march to the world's largest nighttime gay pride event.

Floats and marchers generally chose to either sparkle or satirize - often both - while a few had a political or social point to make.

Chris Lawrence was among dozens of Aboriginals taking part to raise the profile of gay men in indigenous communities.

Daubed in purple paint and wearing only a shimmering miniskirt, he was dancing behind a float with "Our community our Queen" written in gold on a huge pink boomerang.

"We are expressing and celebrating sexual diversity in Aboriginal ... communities," he said.

Other marchers dressed as tampons to protest the government's decision to tax women's sanitary products.

One float was covered in multicolored "rings of friendship" echoing the five Olympic rings and reminding onlookers that Sydney hosts the 2000 Games in September.

Others simply dressed up in the most exotic costumes they could piece together. Two marchers were dressed only in empty water bottles collected from gay dance parties.

Costume designer Barbara Hardman from Sydney was resplendent in a sequin-heavy outfit she said featured 1,500 peacock feathers and took six people 50 hours to make.

The event has become a huge money spinner for the city. An economic impact survey showed that the 1998 parade generated just under 100 million dollars (U.S. dlrs 60 million) in revenue for Sydney businesses as tourists flooded the city.

Despite the vast number of participants and spectators crammed into a few streets in the upscale Paddington neighborhood, police Sunday reported only four arrests during the celebrations and said the crowd was well-behaved.

"This is very much a community," said event president David McLachlan. "Increasingly an Australia-wide and world-wide community coming together tonight on the streets of Sydney, celebrating what they are and who they are."

Sydney's two most senior Roman Catholic and Anglican clerics condemned the event last week as "an exercise in gross exhibitionism that promotes a homosexual lifestyle."

McLachlan was unrepentant.

"I think that is probably a pretty good analysis of what this is about," he said.

More religious groups than ever before - including Roman Catholics and Anglicans - took part Saturday.

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