The Midsumma Festival began as a small gay and lesbian picnic in the late 1980s. Thirty years later it’s one of Australia’s biggest celebrations of LGBTIQ arts and culture, spanning three weeks.

“Queer art is at its most vibrant in 2017,” says Daniel Santangeli, Midsumma program director. “There is so much diversity and so many queer cultures that exist in Victoria, and that means more opportunity to see what’s around.”

This year the festival is based around three hubs: the Arts Centre will host international talent and focus on cabaret; Gasworks Arts Park will showcase homegrown drag, cabaret and art talent; the Hare Hole – a bookshop by day – will champion spoken word and literature at night.

If you missed the opening Carnival – don’t worry: the program covers more than 130 events, so get planning. To help, here are our top picks for Midsumma 2017.

The Barre at Arts Centre Melbourne
The Barre - the official festival bar and club – is hosting DJs; free talks and forums; Monday-night sing-a-longs; and importantly, a Kylie Minogue Super Fan Day. Santangeli points to a panel hosted by Sally Goldner, the CEO of Transgender Australia, called “How to be an Ally of Transgender People”. “This is a really fantastic conversation to be having, particularly as more and more transgender people become visible in society today,” he says. There are menu discounts at The Barre if you have a ticket stub from any Midsumma performance on the same day.

The Barre runs from January 15 to February 5 at the Arts Centre and is a free event.

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The Happy Prince by Little Ones Theatre
The Happy Prince transforms Oscar Wilde’s fairytale into a story tackling perceptions of gender, beauty, sex and class.

The Happy Prince runs from January 18 to January 29 at La Mama Theatre and is a ticketed event.

The Australia Post Art Prize
This exhibition features sculpture, photography, film and painting by 12 finalists inspired by the theme “identities”. The works show “the full diversity of the queer artists out there, who all come from quite different walks of life” Santangeli says.

The Australia Post Art Prize runs from January 21 to February 4 at Fort Delta, Capitol Arcade and is a free event.

Dirty Laundry, Soiled Secrets and Secret Ethnic Fetishes
During Midsumma, Hare Hole (which won the Best Venue Award at the 2016 Melbourne Fringe Festival) hosts the 2017 Word is Out program. The 16-event showcase features artists, performers and writers as well as panels like this one hosted by the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council. This event will explore, “the thrills and chills, highs and lows, and the in-betweens of sexual transgression from a range of ethnic queer perspectives”.

Dirty laundry, Soiled Secrets and Secret Ethnic Fetishes is on January 22 at Hare Hole at Hares & Hyenas and is a ticketed event.

Photographer Aaron Walker documents the wonderfully colourful and complex drag community in a series of bold images.

#Dragformation runs from January 20 to February 5 at Chapel off Chapel and is a free event.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Sure, you’ve seen this Aussie classic before, but have you watched it in costume? An MC will hand out best-costume prizes before the film – and the requisite sing-a-long – begins.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is on January 25 at Gasworks Arts Park and is a ticketed event.

Pride March
The Pride March is one of Midsumma’s biggest and most important events. The colourful annual parade attracts 4000 people from Victoria’s LGBTIQ communities (and 40,000 watching from the sidelines) to march through St Kilda to the Catani Gardens. If you want to kick on after the march, Bearded Homos is hosting a dance party at Cushion Lounge featuring a bunch of DJs who, in Midsumma’s words, will “put you in the mood to move like Grace Jones and shine like a mother-fucking diamond”. Tickets can be purchased prior or at the door.

The Pride March is on January 29 down Fitzroy Street, St Kilda and is a free event. Registration is closed to march in the parade, but anyone can come along and support.

The Queen of Ireland
Drag queen Panti Bliss – the alter ego of Rory O’Neill – made headlines in 2014 when a speech she made about homophobia went viral. She then became one of the most prominent advocates in the fight for marriage equality in Ireland. She’s in Melbourne for Midsumma and The Queen of Ireland tells her story. After the screening, Bliss will host a Q&A. (If you miss the ACMI event, The Barre is hosting Panti Bliss in conversation with Hannah Gadsby on Saturday February 4).

The Queen of Ireland * is on February 1 at ACMI and is a ticketed event.*

The LGBTIQA+ Sports Festival
“This is the ultimate come-and-try-day,” says Santangeli. “You can turn up and play as many different sports as you like.” There’s yoga, wrestling, football, water polo and more. Plus, a lunchtime barbeque will keep you fuelled.

The Sports Festival is on February 4 from 9am at Footscray Park & Victoria University Footscray Campus and is a free event.

10 Minute Dance Party Caravan
The concept here is “10 minutes, 10 people, 10 dollars”. Hosted by various DJs, the caravan is an ultra-exclusive, high-octane dance party for, as the name suggests, only 10 people at a time, and for just 10 minutes.

The 10 Minute Dance Party Caravan runs from January 25 to February 4 at Gasworks Arts Park and is a ticketed event.

The Cuddle Puddle
A Rajasthani wedding tent has been set up at the Gasworks Arts Park so you can rest and relax; give and receive a shoulder massage; and have a cuddle – with your mate, or with a stranger.

The Cuddle Puddle runs from January 25 to February 4 at Gasworks Arts Park and is a free event.

Midsumma Horizon
Midsumma Horizon is the final hurrah for the 2017 festival. The late-night experimental arts bash is happening for the first time at the newly re-opened Testing Grounds (behind the Arts Centre). The theme for the night is “what does a queer future look like?” and the industrial space will host waacking dance groups and work by international and local artists.

Midsumma Horizon is on February 4 at Testing Grounds and is a free event.