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Pride in our future.

Can we make the changes to ensure LGBTIQ+ Gippslandians feel safe, welcome and celebrated in every town across the region?

Apr 18, 2022

Words: Zoe Askew

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The challenges of persistent discrimination and the lack of education, support services and representation are fueling the fire as Gippland's LGBTIQ+ community strives for change.

Victoria’s LGBTIQ+ strategy 2022–2032
was released in 2022, committing all parts of the State Government to make laws, policies and services safer and more inclusive for LGBTIQ+ Victorians. While the state continues to take steps towards equality, systemic discrimination and marginalisation of the LGBTIQ+ community persist, especially in regional Victoria.

In the past 12 months, 58% of LGBTIQ+ Victorians have faced unfair treatment based on sexual orientation and 77.7% of trans and gender-diverse Victorians have faced unfair treatment based on their gender identity. Victorians in outer suburban, regional and rural areas report greater social exclusion and psychological distress and are more likely to have attempted suicide than those living in inner city areas.

Adding to these alarming statistics is the further understanding of ‘change and conversion practice trauma’ – a practice that put a Sale church at the forefront of the state’s media.

“It’s pretty frickin traumatic… you repress your feelings… because it’s just this deep-rooted shame.”

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Ash Goodsell is among calling for change. “I came out to my friends around 18, and… my parents when I was 24. I think [not acknowledging my sexuality and coming out sooner] definitely had something to do with growing up regionally, especially in school; I got bullied all the way through high school.

“It’s pretty frickin traumatic… you repress your feelings… because it’s just this deep-rooted shame.”

As society began to change and LGBTIQ+ rights moved to the forefront of the media, support services like the Gippsland Pride Initiative were launched. But for Ash, accessing these services was out of the question for fear of retribution.

“I was out at the pub one night (in 2018), and a group of boys I went to school with were calling me a f****t… You never know… if they are going to rev up if you bite back, so you just don’t.”

Like many LGBTIQ+ Gippslanders, Ash believes education is the forerunner in combatting stigma and systemic discrimination. “It comes down to education from a young age that love is love.”

“There is so much deep-seated, intergenerational trauma in regional areas from people passing on these homophobic ideologies from generation to generation, without education… it is just going to continue.

“[In Melbourne] I can walk down the street and hold my partner’s hand and not have to worry about getting hate-crimed… Here, I would be on edge… Which is sad because I would love my kids to grow up here, but… what if things are still the same as when I was at school?”

The Wellington Shire Council and the state government are employing resources in regional LGBTIQ+ services. Gippsland’s LGBTIQ+ have access to support and services such as The Queers Are Here, QSpace, Gippsland Pride Initiative, Rural Rainbows, QLife, Rainbow Network and Youth Space, which is a fundamental stepping stone.

Equality Minister Harriet Shing says, “We are working every day to make sure LGBTIQ+ Victorians feel safe, welcome and celebrated in every town, every hospital and every classroom across Victoria,”

“The Safe Schools program [is] available to every school in the state – equipping staff to support LGBTIQ+ students so they can be safe and welcome in and out of the classroom… We are investing record levels of funding into the health system to ensure all Victorians have access to inclusive and LGBTIQ+ tailored health care – including through the new 223-bed hospital we will build in West Gippsland.”

Mayor of Wellington Shire, Councillor Ian Bye, contends that “through Healthy Wellington, council strives to reduce barriers for people trying to access or feel included in community life and increase community activities that focus on celebrating diversity.”

Councillor Bye listed Axios (an LGBTIQ+ social support group for youth aged 12-18 years), the Rainbow Ball, run by the East Gippsland Shire Council’s Youth Ambassadors, and measures such as CCTV and adequate lighting to keep public spaces safe. The council also plans to develop and implement a ‘Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan’ and achieve the Rainbow Tick accreditation for council services within the current term.

This is great progress, but there are still gaps.

“There are so many facets to what is needed… Having something like a pride/resource centre that encompasses all [of] those… would be fantastic,” local LGBTQ+ community member Eliza suggested.

In 2019, the first state government-funded clinics outside the hospital system opened, centred on a new model to increase access to trans health care in Victoria, and have since begun extending to regional communities with a clinic at Ballarat Community Health.

“There are people I really care about who are trans [who] have to go to Melbourne for regular appointments...Something like that would be lovely to see,” Eliza said.

Gippsland’s LGBTIQ+ community have the solutions; how can you put your energy towards supporting them?

Gippslandia - Issue No. 26

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