In 2016, Ro Allen, our first Gender and Sexuality Commissioner, started the LGBTIQ Equality Roadshow, visiting a large number of regional towns across Victoria, with the aim to connect the community.
Since then, the roadshow has achieved a number of outcomes, including a commitment from local governments to support LGBTIQ inclusion, changes to gender neutral bathrooms in select areas and inclusion plans within local communities.
On a grey and rainy day in mid-June, almost three years later, a group of passionate LGBTIQ advocates met at the Benalla Performing Arts Centre to discuss the next stage of inclusion, responding to the emerging needs of the community and discussing the challenges various groups are experiencing.
Among the rainbow merchandise, flags and badges were a diverse range of people, industries and community groups, with representatives from a number of health services, shire councils and government organisations, education providers and Victoria Police, as well as interested individuals and community members.
The ever-fabulous Ro Allen and the team at the Department of Premier and Cabinet ran the workshop, with particular focus on inclusive services, as well as the challenges and exciting opportunities available in the Hume Region.
The facilitators were able to inspire the group, with a number of attendees leaving the session feeling empowered, with plans to make positive changes to their local communities and workplaces.
With the group representing many different towns from across the region - such as Shepparton, Wangaratta, Strathbogie, Yarrawonga, Euroa, Violet Town, Benalla and beyond - it’s likely there will be changes taking place in many communities.
A heated discussion at one time centred around what inclusive practice may look like – the goals for the community and the ability to meet leaders and advocates, particularly across such a large region.
Funding and resources were mentioned as a specific challenge predominantly when communities are spaced at such large distances, and the associated social isolation that this can cause.
Having been involved previously in a number of LGBTIQ+ forums, seminars and conferences, I wasn’t too sure what I was going to take away from the session.
I would have already described myself as a fierce advocate, but was really looking forward to the opportunity to meet other leaders and supporters in the community.
Living in the small regional town of Wangaratta, I’ve found little community representation, and travel regularly to Shepparton to become involved in GV Pride, a supportive group for LGBTIQ people in the Goulburn Valley.
The main eye-opening experience of the day was a comment made from one of the attendees, and I was forced to stop and rethink my perspective.
A fellow advocate mentioned that we are sometimes so focused on our own individual spaces, striving to change workplaces, attitudes or put inclusive policies in place, that we lose sight of the big picture.
As individuals, we have the opportunity to influence our workplace; by making it more inclusive, standing up against discrimination and harassment, sometimes it’s just by being a visible queer person.
However, by influencing our workplace, we are also influencing our community.
This, perhaps, was the most prominent message of the day.
As advocates we have the potential to instigate conversations in homes, at dinner tables, within families, and through these conversations, there is the possibility of leading a larger change.
We may not think we’re getting anywhere and fail to see the small achievements – but if just one conversation occurs because of representation then it’s already a fantastic achievement.
We should never underestimate the power of visibility.
As a now out-and-proud person in my workplace and community, I can’t emphasise enough how important this visibility is.
It’s important for those who are not able to ‘come out’, it’s important for those who believe ‘there are no LGBTI people in this area/workplace’ and it is important for me – to show others my authentic self.
The Rural and Regional Program has allowed like-minded people the opportunity to collaborate with other organisations and community members across the Hume region, and this in itself has been highlighted as vitally important.
Since the workshop, a group of leaders and LGBTQI advocates are leading discussions with the plan to work collaboratively and start an Alliance in Wangaratta.
Bringing services, groups and individuals together will be a fantastic achievement, and I’m so proud that there is so much support and passion for change for the Wangaratta community.
Allison Leatham is a queer person, fierce advocate, parent and nurse. Winner of GV Pride’s 2018 Volunteer of the Year Award, Allison is aiming to put LGBTQI inclusive practice high on the agenda.