February 28, 2019

Caring for us the story of Mardi Gras Medical

If you’ve ever been in a spot of bother at a major Mardi Gras event before, chances are you might have had an encounter with Mardi Gras Medical. The team have been on the ground providing LGBTIQ specific medical care at Mardi Gras events since the mid-late 80s, and will be at the parade, the after party, and Laneway this weekend to provide help to anyone who needs it.

The service, which has been coordinated by Jem Masters since 2002, began initially to support the community affected by HIV/AIDS over the Mardi Gras period in the 80s.  “The boys were coming to their last ever Mardi Gras parties, and a group of health professionals got together to actually make sure that the boys were looked after,” Jem tells me.  From there, it became apparent that an LGBTIQ specific medical service was needed. Mardi Gras medical works without judgement to assist people and in some instances, save the lives of LGBTIQ party goers who become ill after taking drugs or drinking alcohol.

Now, Mardi Gras medical is an “advanced first aid pre-hospital care,” Jem tells me. “So we actually provide services that are actually making sure people don’t do something silly.” The team is made up of trained health professionals including doctors, nurses, and paramedics, as well as senior first aiders.

The service is made up of a team of LGBTIQ and ally health professionals who have a strong understanding of the specific needs and issues our communities face. “It’s important that you’ve got LGBTIQ friendly, or people who are a part of the community [in these roles], who actually understand the specific needs of our community, and understand where we come from: the discrimination, the hatred, the lack of empathy towards the community,” says Jem. If you’ve ever had an awkward encounter at the doctor’s because of your gender or sexuality, you’ll understand why this is so important. Nothing shocks Jem and fellow facilitator Mark Koh, they’ve seen many, many different things lodged here or stuck up there, and have been happy to help without judgement. “You name it, we’ve done it,” says Jem.

And while it’s an important service to provide partygoers, it’s not all a one-way street. Jem and Mark get something out of it, too. “One of the nicest and the most pleasurable things is people coming to the medical tent the following year or years later, and saying, thank you, you saved us. We really want to say thanks… And the kisses!” Jem laughs. “Oh yeah, we get lots of kisses, lots of kisses and hugs,” Mark adds. “I think for me, it’s about providing a safe space for people,” he continues. “People do come to us in a bit of a state, and they don’t get judged… we look at the situation, manage the situation, if we can get you back to the party because that’s where you want to be [we will], or get you home safely.”

No problem is too small for the team. They’ve fixed headaches and wardrobe malfunctions, as well as overdoses and cock ring removals. “I know how to make cleavage out of a very, very flat chested boy with some gaffa tape!” Jem proudly tells me.

If you’ve got a problem, it’s best to have it seen to before it escalates.

This is especially true if you are taking drugs or drinking alcohol over Mardi Gras. “If people feel that they need to come, it’s better to come early rather than when you’re in crisis… it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Overdoses and adverse reactions to alcohol and drugs can have very serious consequences, so if you don’t feel well it is important that you seek attention from an ACON Rover  or medical immediately.

It’s also important to be honest with the medical team so they can help you as best as they can. “We are going to ask people questions like, ‘have you taken something?’” says Mark. “It’s not because we’re reporting this or something, it’s just so it makes it safe for you, so we know how to work with you and help you… we don’t care what you’ve taken, it just makes it easier for us to work with you.”

Despite common assumptions or fears, you can’t be arrested simply for coming to medical, and you won’t be kicked out of the party if it’s safe to keep you there. That’s what Jem and Mark are most concerned with – safety, of you, and others around you. If it’s safe to keep you at the party, you’ll get to stay. If it’s safest to send you home, they’ll make sure there’s someone responsible to take you home. And if you need to go to hospital to ensure your safety, the team works closely with paramedics and hospitals to make that happen.

The medical team works closely with police, but police don’t enter the tent without permission, and they don’t receive any information about who has been treated, and for what.

Mardi Gras Medical will be all along the parade route, at the after party (look out for the big red tent behind the Hordern) and at Laneway on Sunday.

“And on Monday we do absolutely nothing!” Mark laughs.

Look out for the high vis medical team vests, and at the parade, medical volunteers are in green

Jem and Mark also have their own tips for staying safe this Mardi Gras:

  • Don’t take drugs. Mardi Gras has a no substance policy.
  • But if you’re going to, stay hydrated. Less alcohol, more water
  • Have time out from the dance floor. Chill in the chill out lounge areas
  • Have something to eat
  • Be safe and have friends around you
  • Have a contact number (of a friend) and ID on you so that you can be helped promptly if it’s needed

Have a safe and happy Mardi Gras!

In NSW there are a number of LGBTIQ inclusive services that can provide information and support around alcohol and drugs. See our services directory to find out more.