By ALEC SMART
On Saturday, 6 March, GLADD (the Gay and Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists), the Australian organisation representing LGBTQI+ medical professionals, will participate in their 8th Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.
Due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the 2021 Parade will take place at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), which will be transformed into a Covid-safe environment to facilitate the march and festivities.
Beyond their eye-catching medical-themed floats and sometimes raunchy costumes in the annual Mardi Gras Parade, and their association with Australia’s LGBTQI+ healthcare community, who are the colourful people behind GLADD and when, how and why was it started?
The Sentinel caught up with the Chair and Founder of GLADD Australia, Dr Bhushan Joshi, who let us conduct a thorough examination..
“GLADD was founded in Australia in 2013, by myself, after I had migrated from the UK in 2011,” Dr Joshi explained. “I was a gay doctor in the UK, I had just completed my physician exams, I was tired and I found that the NHS [National Health Service] work culture I was working in at that time wasn’t very gay-friendly.
“So I decided to travel to Australia for a year. It had always been a dream of mine to come down under – sun, sand, hot men – so when the opportunity came after my post-graduate exams in the UK, I couldn’t say no!
“I had come out about six to seven years prior to coming to Australia,” Dr Joshi continued, “and working in a not-very-open workplace … as well as coming from a family of Indian origin, I found my home in GLADD UK.”
Were GLADD UK active in Britain’s LGBTQI+ campaigning and annual community celebrations?
“They used to hold an annual March for London Pride,” Dr Joshi confirmed, “and social/networking events through the year, as well as provide a political voice to the government and professional bodies such as the General Medical Council (GMC) and the British Medical Association (BMA).
“I was in awe of them as it gave me an opportunity to marry my two passions: medicine and people’s freedoms.
“I marched with the London Pride GLADD float in the lead-up to my year in Australia and loved it. So much so that after I arrived in Sydney, and after watching my first Mardi Gras [in 2012] and not observing a doctors’ float in the parade, I decided to set one up with the name of GLADD Australia in 2013 – which was also the 35th anniversary of Mardi Gras.”
Rewarded with an award
“That first year of organising a doctors’ and dentists’ float for Mardi Gras was exhilarating to say the least and we also got an award for the best float that year! I never did leave Australia after that first year and since getting an award for the best float it has spurred me on to organise a float every year as my way of giving back to the community.”
GLADD has since won three awards during their seven years of involvement, including a ‘Commendation Award’ for their most recent Mardi Gras 2020 entry, one of only eight floats that participated in the Parade to be recognised with that distinction.
This is all the more remarkable considering the GLADD entry was the 72nd float in the hours-long cavalcade down Oxford Street – out of a total of 188.
In 2017, GLADD were among a few select recipients of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’ Community Parade Grants Program, established to support the diverse range of community organisations that participate in the annual Mardi Gras Parade. The money was bestowed to ‘help make their Parade floats even more amazing’
“Although GLADD Australia is not as big as GLADD UK,” Dr Joshi revealed, “we certainly have a presence about us. Starting with just myself and some friends, in a true grassroots manner, GLADD Australia has grown from putting on seven floats to a mailing list of over 150 people, and a Facebook page with over 900 followers.
And what other activities do GLADD involve themselves?
“Apart from the annual parade at Mardi Gras,” Dr Joshi said, “we’ve organised wine trips, nude model drawing classes and some community socials. We don’t actually host a book club or run a women’s networking group, but I think they’d be great ideas moving forward.”
How has the cursed coronavirus pandemic affected GLADD’s participation in the 2021 Mardi Gras?
“In terms of Covid, I think we are incredibly lucky to be able to hold a parade this year at all,” Dr Joshi considered. “I think the NSW Government and the SCG have done an amazing job at minimising risk by limiting the amount of contact the participants have during the parade, as well as great contact tracing should anything untoward occur.
“What’s different to most years is this year we are in the SCG rather than on Oxford Street; each group is capped at 40 participants, rather than the usual 80; mask-wearing will be mandatory in the start-up areas; physical distancing will be highly encouraged; and groups will be kept in smaller set-up areas with their own food and toilet facilities, so as to minimise contact with large groups of people.”
In 2020, GLADD’s float adopted the theme ‘Free to be – Embracing Gender Diversity’. The team’s theme for their 2021 float is ‘Better Together’.
Dr Joshi explained how the latter was chosen.
“Our float this year actually commemorates the efforts of the medical profession and the public coming together to rise above Covid – ‘Rise’ being the overall Mardi Gras theme this year and ‘Better Together’ being our own individual theme.
“And we’ll certainly be wearing face masks and attempting to distance as much as possible throughout.”
GLADD tidings they bring
What other events and social clubs do they manage? How do people become involved, and do they have to be part of the medical profession?
“Although we hold events primarily for LGBTQI+ healthcare workers, we are very open to have non-healthcare and our non-queer allies join us,” Dr Joshi said. “I aimed back in 2013 to set-up a float, but that quickly turned into a dream of creating an organisation in the long run by queer doctors for queer doctors, just like GLADD UK.
“GLADD Australia is certainly not as politically active as GLADD UK – we don’t sit on any medical boards etc. But a friend once told me there are two aspects of activism and awareness: one through politics, the other via representation and showing up – which is what I think GLADD Australia has done so well in so far.”
As people in the medical profession, how do the doctors in GLADD feel about the long-discredited ‘conversion therapy’ as a false ‘cure’ for homosexuality, still prevalent in many parts of the world?
“As for conversation therapy: being part of the medical profession and being queer we’re very welcoming of the efforts occurring around the world to get it banned,” Dr Joshi affirmed. “We see it as another step in the right direction of our equality and the movement for our freedom to exist.”
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