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Wednesday, August 23, 2000
Head of Sydney closing ceremonies invites drag queens to celebrations

 SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- The closing ceremony for the Sydney Olympics is going to be a drag.

 Cross-dressing "drag queens" will be part of the Games' finale regardless of what "right-wing reactionaries" think, ceremonies director Ric Birch said Wednesday.

 The drag queens, men who dress up in outlandish dresses, wigs and makeup, will be "part of one tiny section" of the closing ceremony, which is a tribute to universally acclaimed Australian films including 1994 smash The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, he said.

 Some of the participants would be dressed in original costumes, including a bright frill-necked lizard outfit, from the film, which features two drag queens and a transsexual driving a pink bus through Australia's Outback.

 A report in Wednesday's Sydney Morning Herald newspaper sparked heated debate on talkback radio.

 One caller said he would trade his closing ceremony ticket after hearing the news, while conservative politicians condemned the idea.

 Christian Democrat politician, the Reverend Fred Nile, said allowing homosexual men to prance around dressed as women would be a national embarrassment.

 "Drag queens do not truly represent our great Aussie culture at all," said Nile, who urged like-minded Australians to express their concerns to Sydney organizers.

 Birch, who directed the opening ceremony at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and was involved in the opener at Atlanta four years ago, said he was annoyed that constant leaks were wrecking what should be a surprise for the public.

 "I'm really disappointed at the way the media is gleefully trying to expose the secrets that we call surprises," Birch told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

 Photographs of the Olympic cauldron being lit in rehearsals, which is usually kept under wraps, have been printed in the media, while the usual speculation on who will ignite the cauldron has intensified.

 Birch said the inclusion of drag queens also reflected one of Sydney's most colourful events, the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a gay pride march and street carnival which attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators each year.

 "I'm not sure if (critics) noticed there is a gay mardi gras parade that takes place in Sydney watched by hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders and which attracts a huge international contingent," Birch said. "That's part of Sydney life whether they like it or not."

 "For the right-wing reactionaries or whatever part of a community is outraged about it -- well, they're always going to be outraged," he said.

 Birch said the closing ceremonies is a celebration.

 "Everyone knows (Olympic ceremonies) are massive cavalcades of colour, movement and celebration," he said. "Particularly the closing ceremony, which is essentially a huge party that celebrates 16 days where a host city has put on an extraordinary event."

 Olympics Minister Michael Knight said all the plans for the ceremonies had been approved by the board of the organizing committee.

 "The closing ceremony runs for several hours and has a very different feel to opening ceremony -- it's a party," he said. "The athletes are going to be on the field from the word go as part of this giant party celebration. The whole feel will be one of great celebration and fun."

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