Row over drag queens at Games' closing ceremony

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The Independent Online

Sydney is a famously diverse city, but diversity, it seems, has its limits. News yesterday that the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games will feature 40 of its more unconventional residents - drag queens - drew a furious reaction from conservative-minded souls.

Sydney is a famously diverse city, but diversity, it seems, has its limits. News yesterday that the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games will feature 40 of its more unconventional residents - drag queens - drew a furious reaction from conservative-minded souls.

Some callers to talkback radio threatened to sell their coveted tickets unless the drag queens were withdrawn. But Ric Birch, the director of ceremonies, pledged they would be part of the proceedings regardless of the complaints of "right-wing reactionaries".

With their enormous heels, outlandish frocks and bird's- nest wigs, Sydney's drag queens are a familiar sight in the neighbourhoods that host the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a carnival that draws half a million spectators.

Their inclusion in the closing ceremony of next month's Games is a tribute to the acclaimed Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, released in 1994.

The film starred Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp as two drag queens and a transsexual driving a pink bus through the Australian outback. The participants in the ceremony will wear costumes featured in the film, including lizard-frill-necked frocks and fruit-laden headgear.

The backlash was led yesterday by the Rev Fred Nile, a New South Wales politician who is the Australian equivalent of Mary Whitehouse. He called on Games organisers not to ruin the finale with what he called "tawdry men prancing around".

Games officials confirmed in a terse statement that drag queens would take part in the three-hour ceremony, but said they would be confined to a short segment paying homage to Australian arts and culture. Mr Birch said they were also included because of their role in Mardi Gras, which he said was "part of Sydney life, whether critics like it or not".

Mr Nile suggested an alternative. "Let's have some beautiful women. I'm not against that. Let's have some real Australian women, not men pretending to be women."

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