“Who is Steph?” Mmm, that is something I have been trying to work out for nearly 40 years.
This is what I know.
I was born in a small town in rural NSW called Leeton. There were about 7000 people there when I was growing up and I think the population is about the same today. I grew up tasting McDonalds maybe 3 times in my formative years, participated in the school band and the high school musicals. There was an old theatre in the town which seated over 800 people and looking back, it is funny to realize that 10% of the town could fit in there in one night.
My mother was a fourth generation Leetonian and very community focused. She was the chairperson for the community Roxy Theatre committee for over 10 years, in addition to being involved with the local eisteddfod. They were both voluntary positions and took a little time out from the family but I remember the community spirit that she taught me from an early age, as well as the importance that was placed on bringing the clans together. She was a great role model for this facet of my life.
I was university educated in Wagga Wagga at the then RMIHE (now Charles Sturt). It was predominately an agricultural college where the cows were cows and the bulls were bulls. But there was a growing faction of arts related courses and I choose to study education and trained as a high school geography and economics teacher. Once teaching, I embarked on an Arts degree where I studied communications and sociology. It gave me a very rounded education.
When I realized I was gay, I found it very hard to come out and adapt in a rural environment. I joined the southern cross G & L group and met the only other lesbian in town (which was kinda scary to a baby dyke like myself). I kept watching the Mardi Gras as it appeared, in very limited amounts, in our media. I moved to Sydney with $60 in my pocket and a promise of a couch in my city cousins house on valentines day in 1993.
Two weeks later I was standing on Oxford street, experiencing my first ever Mardi Gras Parade.
Since that night 18 years ago, Mardi Gras has held an important place in my social and emotional well being. It gave me a sense of community and family. And when in 2002, I heard that my community was doing everything it could to save it, I put my hand up and volunteered. That began a rollercoaster of 8 years of involvement that saw me co-lead the organisation from 2003-2005 with Michael Woodhouse and Mark Orr. Two men that taught me so much. I took some time out from the board from 2005-2008 before re-joining and co-leading the organisation once again with Nick Parker for the 2010 season. Nick was with me on the boards on 2002,2003 and 2004 and together we share the passion that Mardi Gras surges through your veins. 2010 was a particularly difficult year.
I feel so lucky and privileged that I had the opportunity to lead this organisation once, let alone twice in my life. There is nothing else I would rather be doing right now.
So who am I? I’m just a kid from the country who wants to do right by the community that did right for me. I’m not perfect, I’m not cool and I’m not anything out of the ordinary. However, I love what I do and I’m always happy to hear other people’s thoughts about things that we should be doing differently. Mardi Gras is for all of us. Not just a chosen few.