It’s time to Combine US and THEM for a huge Hen’s and Buck’s night.

I was never sure if I believed in marriage. It’s not that I don’t believe in love or commitment, but I was never sure if a dress, a ring and a piece of paper really changed the extent of feeling you can have towards one person, or the degree of commitment you place towards your partnership. But since this last weekend’s win in New York City for Same-Sex marriage, since the WA ALP state conference and QLD and the wave of support that is building like a Tsunami I am finding my beliefs starting to change.

Much like a lactose intolerant child who can never have ice-cream, I’ve never really missed it. It’s something THEY do, not me! But now, that ice-cream is getting close. It’s on the plate in front of me, and I find myself reaching for a spoon.

And a spoon I have grabbed! My Mardi Gras Co-Chair Pete Urmson and myself have jumped into battle and are organising a mega fundraising event: A hen’s and Buck’s party for Marriage Equality. More on this later…

For me, marriage equality is not just about being able to marry someone of the same sex, it’s about ensuring our community (US) have the same rights and choices as our straight friends (THEM).

It just isn’t fair that THEY can do this and WE cant.

US and THEM.

So really is this marriage equality debate really a debate between US and THEM? I’m sure our politicians are making it that way.

On Friday the 20th May (the day before the supposed rapture I may add) Julie Gillard accepted a letter with a face to face meeting with FamilyVoice Australia. This letter contained the signatures of 32 000 people against Same Sex Marriage. She then reportedly told representatives from FamilyVoice that she greatly appreciated receiving the letter and reiterated her support for marriage remaining a heterosexual privilege.

Privilege? When I look up the definition of privilege I get the following: “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most”

Does that mean that our prime minister thinks homosexuals are less worthy than heterosexuals?

Meanwhile, she refuses to meet with marriage equality groups. That’s hardly fair, or representative of the overall community is it?

Every couple of month’s rallies are planned around the country to support marriage equality. The same diligent 800 or so people trek into the city, listen to the same type of speeches take to the streets and chant the same slogans. There is no doubt that we are making headway into the hearts and minds of THEM, but how can we accelerate this to ensure that this is actually moving towards the outcome we want?

Unfortunately, the marriage equality fight will not be won in the trenches of our community. It is a stark reality that we are still a minority, and even ALL the collective voices of US will never be more than a fraction of the majority of THEM. We need money to get our messages out and into the mainstream… and fast… that spoon is close!

So your call to arms is firstly start showing up. Surely there are more than 800 of us willing to fight for this cause. Secondly you need to enlist the help of THEM for US. There are many silent supporters in our greater mainstream communities for our cause they just need to be asked, educated and mobilised.

US+THEM can equal CHANGE!

What we can all do individually to help this cause is more than just chanting slogans and getting our community friends to weekend rallies. It’s as simple as starting to talk to our straight friends and asking them to join us. Gay rights are human rights, equal rights are human rights.

Everyone knows members of THEM – friends, Family and Colleagues. If we can get THEM to join US, there will no longer be an US and a THEM. We can just be an accepting, loving, equal US. And what a great world that will be.

So, at the next Marriage Equality Rally or fundraising event will you:

  1. Come along and join US
  2. Bring 5 or more straight allies with you
  3. Ask THEM to bring their friends with them as well

It’s time we added to our choir in the name of equality and human rights, and this means NO MORE US AND THEM.

I will update everyone on the Hens and Bucks night… You will need to bring your straight friends and wallets. If you can help, in any way, gay or straight, contact me. It’s going to be huge, it will be fun, it will be uniting.

See you at the next rally/event/fundraiser.  

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Letters from my Home Town

Over the past week I was made aware of some rumblings regarding homophobia in my home town: Leeton.

In a nutshell, Leeton High School (incidentally the high school I attended for 6 years) is doing a production called “gLeeton: don’t stop believing”.

From the LHS website:

“Don’t Stop Believing is a revue style show featuring 21 songs from the hit TV series Glee. The show has a loose plot line based on the typical teenage issues of popularity and peer pressure, love and the age old battle between sport and music.”

There are 13 lead roles: the characters of Rachel, Quinn, Finn, Artie, Mercedes, Puck, Tina, Brittney, Santanna, Kane, Randy, Joe and Jenny.

Of note is the absence of the character of Kurt, an outcome that prompted a letter to the local newspaper, “The Irrigator” on June 3rd entitled “Play Decision Homophobic”. The writer goes on to question how the exclusion of the gay character from the production looks to members of the rural community who are struggling with their own sexuality.

What transpired was a flurry of responses online many from students involved in the production and many from former Leeton youth who were bullied for being gay and moved  away to safer environments.

What was interesting was the comments from two students:

“We don’t have a Kurt in our production as asking a school student to play a homosexual character is a personal choice,” said Alice in The Irrigator, admitting that the Kurt character had been “cut”.

“The person that would be playing Kurt would probably end up having rumours spread about them, which would end up resulting in a bullying situation,” wrote Liam Warren.

Instead of firing off a letter to the Irrigator I wanted to get my facts right so I rang Greg Horton the Principle of Leeton High School and settled in for a chat. He convinced me that the decision not to cast a Kurt was a consequence of the students auditioning for self-determined roles and no-one wanted to perform as “Kurt”. It was not an intentional cut.

I was satisfied with this response, and I do not want to take away from the students and staff who are putting much time and effort into what will be a great production for them. But what a shame it isn’t looking at the principle messaging of Glee: Acceptance. When I asked Greg if they were performing the unofficial theme “Born this Way” by Lady Gaga – he wasn’t even aware of the song or artist.

However, what I found more interesting from my conversation with Greg, was when I asked what support services were in place for our GLBTQI youth in Leeton. He could not answer. There were no specific services at the school, and he was not aware of any LGBTQI identified youth in his school. Although he did admit that he probably, by nature of statistics, had some students who were struggling with this.

He could not tell me where he would refer a student who had these types of questions or issues if they presented, except he would take it to the schools “welfare” committee. I couldn’t find reference to this committee on the LHS website.

What I did find on the LHS website was a section called “Caring for Students – Student Safety” which went into detail around bullying, racism and drug safety. Using the search function on the site I inputted Gay, and it did not return one record. This says to me that there are no LGBTQI policies of any form publically available from Leeton High School.

Whilst it would be easy to make Leeton high school an example I fear that this is common amongst many regional schools.

I deliberated for a few days as to whether to respond with a letter to the local papers, However, I find myself limiting my response to this blog? Why? Because my Mother and Brother still live in Leeton and I fear repercussion on them. Isn’t this reason enough to question homophobia in the town?

One of the responses from a former gay student, Sarah, said:

I am gay. I grew up in Leeton. I was not supported by the school or community. Stereotyping is something that happens in Leeton trust me I know. That’s why I don’t live there anymore I live with my girlfriend Yumi now and I’m happier than ever 🙂

What is needed is a specific LGBTQI program for our secondary schools. Period. The pilot trial in 12 schools this year needs to be extended and quickly.

If there is a genuine desire to minimise homophobia in our schools, and I will hold our educators to account on this, then there needs to be openness to accepting it. The one thing that Mardi Gras has learnt over the years is the need to get out there and be who we are.

It’s a shame that a student wasn’t prepared to perform in a Kurt inspired role, but hopefully if an opportunity arises again for an actor to portray a gay character like Kurt, whose wit is likely to charm the audience, then this is explored a little more.

On a final note when I asked Greg if he would be open to me, or a performer even, coming to the school and speaking to the students regarding this, he wasn’t so keen.

Show’s that Leeton High School can produce a Co-Chair of Mardi Gras, but isn’t ready to have that person come back.

Show’s we are still lucky to be in the accepting Ghetto, but go outside and it’s a different world.

Update 10/6 – The department of Education has provided an official response. Read it here.

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F**K off Bully’s

Once again I hear of adult members in our community engaging in Bullying towards one another.

We continually fight for acceptance as a community. We have stood side by side to win our rights and for people to accept us because of our differences and we celebrate this by turning on each other?

Decades and decades of community heroes’ have walked before us to enable us to live the life we currently live, to stand together to fight the remaining battles and turn our attention to those who still need our help.

We all stand together to support our younger communities who are being bullied at schools. We rush in, embrace the cause and lend our undying support, because we do know it gets better… and most of the time it does, but….

When it comes to adult bullying within our own community we are not so quick to jump in and say it’s not ok.

Why is this?

Why are we scared to point out the flaws in our own communities? Are we scared that we we will not be included in the “in crowd” we socialise with on the weekend? Are we still acting out our schoolyard scenarios but in a more sophisticated and adult fashion?

Why is it OK to bully one another as adults? And more so, why is it ok to see it happening and not call the bully out on their behaviour.

The Canada Safety Council defines adult bullying as:

“a grab for control by an insecure, inadequate person, an exercise of power through the humiliation of the target.” It involves humiliation or abusive words that lower a person’s self-esteem. It can take the form of rude, degrading or offensive remarks; intimidating gestures; or discrediting a person by spreading rumours, ridiculing them or calling into question their convictions and private life.”

Sound familiar, or do you call this gossip or politics or scandal? Or is it ok to make fun of someone who is fat or skinny, or doesn’t wear the right clothes or isn’t as socially outgoing as you? Or do you call this just the natural pecking order?

It’s really a sad day when I keep hearing about this and have to write a blog like this.

As a community please stand up and start calling this behaviour when you see it. It’s not acceptable, and it’s not cool.

You are responsible for the way you choose to treat others, and no-one else. Watching bullying and not doing anything about it is just as bad as doing the bullying in my opinion.

If you are being bullied as an adult talk to someone about it and then call the behavior. It’s the only way this is going to stop.

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Women Said Something – one step closer to acceptance

Last night Mardi Gras, along with the Femme Guild, Lemons with a Twist, Dykes on Bikes and Natural State Living put on the inaugural Women Say Something event. It was, in my opinion a resounding success. We had around 140 women, from many of our community tribes represented not only on the panel but also in the audience.

I saw people talking to people who would not normal mix together, and I hope people left the event feeling a little more comfortable with the diversity of our communities.

The original vision I had for this event was just that. That people who would not normally meet would get the opportunity to come together and learn. Learn to accept all our community quirks and differences and carry that forward into their own tribes.

I truly believe that we will not gain the fundamental human rights and respect that we all fight for until we learn to accept all our tribes and the diversity that comes within that.

That’s a big call. But it’s not something I say lightly. I have pondered whether I should not say anything at all, but I have come to the conclusion that someone has to look at our community from the inside and point out the obvious.

We are all fighting for acceptance yet we struggle to accept one another. How can we demand acceptance in the greater context when we still cannot accept the differences that make up our community.

Last night’s Women Say Something event was a start, but it was no means an end to the work that needs to be done. And although we have programs in place by our wonderful community organisations, this really needs to start at home. Meaning, one person at a time. That means you. And it’s not hard to do either.

I want to share a personal story that bought me to this point. It made me take a good look at my own reactions and my own thoughts on the subject.

I never really “got” the queer scene. I struggled with the performance art and I struggled with why people dressed in a non-conformist manner. I didn’t think I was a judgemental person, I just thought “it wasn’t for me”, but then I met Zoo. I say I “met” Zoo, but really I started to get to know her through Facebook. We instantly clicked after an incident at Sleaze ball last year which saw her write to the community press and me respond. The importance of boundaries was the title of my response and it was based on the respect that we all had fought for for the past 40 years in terms of diversity and acceptance.

Writing that response really started me thinking about my own opinions and judgements.

Zoo is the first real Queer that has come into my life in a major way. She is controversial, provocative and well, just out there. Queer performance pieces, I admit, I still don’t “get” at times, but she is happy to explain them to me, and from there I have a greater understanding of what people are trying to say. She is someone who never stops saying something. She has taught me, and I say taught, because I do feel she has been my teacher, that expression comes in a number of ways, and acceptance comes from appreciating that.

The other thing Zoo has taught me is that the Queer scene isn’t really that scary. Over the past 6 months she, and others I have met, have introduced me to some amazing artists, writers, professionals and musicians. I see self-expression in everyone I met, and I have even started to define and develop my own sense of expression in the clothes I prefer to wear. The “look” I try to achieve for myself when I got out. I no longer listen to those people who tell me I can’t wear that, I choose to listen to that person inside that say’s I can! And I choose to wear what I wear where I wear it. Transcending the queer to the gaystream to the bears to the twinks.

What Zoo and I have is a symbiotic relationship. We often laugh about how I teach her about the gaystream and she teaches me about the queers. It works!

I am so lucky that in my role at Mardi Gras I get introduced to many of our diverse community tribes. Exciting that I get to learn the politics and the reasons and the inspirations that drive our thought leaders and clusters of community. And I feel privileged that I have a platform to drive greater acceptance of that in events such as Women Say Something.

I fear that others feel they do not have that opportunity. But what I would like to say is that you do.

It simply begins with Hello and continues with an open mind.

And who knows, you might even find your own Zoo.

Happy Mardi Gras.

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A Woman Saying Something: Please Let’s Co-Exist!

This year’s Mardi Gras campaign is “Say Something” – inspired to say the least from the creative and talented Kabi.  But what is so special about this campaign is that it enables our communities to actually have a voice and determine the direction of the season this year.

This has always been the goal of Mardi Gras: To allow you to speak, rather than to speak for you. And I believe this year, we deliver on that.

One of the events that has been born from this campaign is Women Say Something. A panel of diverse women talking about issues that matter to them. The themes and questions will be sourced from the community for the community and I’m sure what will happen during the event will be exciting and thought provoking.

On a personal note, I have always wondered why it was so hard to bring our many female communities together in solidarity, and even harder to bring our G’s and T’s and L’s and B’s and Q’s into a non-judgemental environment. Even on parade night and at the party I see many groups of women judge other women. In a community and organisation where we stand for acceptance and equality shouldn’t we be starting with ourselves first?

That’s why I wanted a panel which was as diverse as we could get. So that we could start with the women who have led or continue to lead (whether officially or by profile) the diverse groups that make up our communities. I’m not saying we all need to get on and agree but I do feel we need to learn to co-exist and accept each other. For one week in the year let’s stand together strong, without judgement, with all our initials blazing and keep striving towards the goal which we all agree is our fundamental human right.

A “Gaystream soft butch femme Queer kinky lesbian”

*Women Say Something is being held March 2nd, 6.30 for a 7pm start upstairs and the Colombian hotel. For more information visit www.facebook.com/womansaysomething

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Party Line-up (enough said!)

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Living Your Truth

Kelly Lynch - Natural State Living

With Mardi Gras approaching at the rate of knots and after spending some time recently with Kelly Lynch, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “live your truth”.

It wasn’t that long ago, when the decision of “are you going to Mardi Gras” was actually a considered one. My first Mardi Gras was 1993. I had been out for 2 weeks  and the thought of ending up on television where my friends and family, my employer and workmates might see me was a terrifying one. But I knew that that was who I was. I was a lesbian!

Even saying that out loud back then was a triumph for me, but I was just out of my teenage years and I didn’t really know what my inner self was then.

Now, 20 years on, my truth is pretty clear to me. I am who I am and I make no apologies for that. I ask only that people accept me for Steph, and with that all my other truths are on display. Yes I am a lesbian, but I’m also a friend, a daughter, a sister and a cousin. I’m a manager and Facebook specialist (yes, it’s true – its’ what I do for a living). I’m a leader and a follower, and I’m a proud member of many community groups and tribes.

I try to support those around me in the community doing the same. And there are many communities in which we all reside. It’s not as simple as one big community umbrella anymore.

And looking back 30 years, isn’t this why we all agonized over whether we would be in or at the parade? Just so we could live our truth or part of our truth? Isn’t this why we originally came together to actually stand up for our truth, whatever it would be, against those who did not support or accept that?

It is my personal opinion that Mardi Gras helps bring all these “truths” together for the season. And in some cases, Mardi Gras even helps people come to their own truths on some things.

Sometimes someone can come into your life to remind you that we really are only answerable to the truth within ourselves. Kelly has been a great inspiration to me over the past few weeks, not in anything specific, but more in the way she has turned her life into something more conscious. She has reminded me that in all the noise around you, you can still find the stillness within simply by looking inward and grounding yourself to your truth. I’m looking forward to hearing her at Women Say Something on March 2nd – A special event that NMG is co-producing with a number of other organizations around the topics of diversity and adversity with women.

We all know what is right or wrong and your real judge is the one living within you.   So remember that this Mardi Gras when you are looking for or re-affirming your own truth, and remember to say something that really matters to you.  

It is the time to be strong, bold and real. Say your truth and in the words of Kel:

“Be who you love to be”!

 

 

You can read all about Kelly’s new Initiative “Natural State Living” HERE!

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