My family, our rights and saving lives

I have children who are transgender, and who have been the first in their schools, and probably some of the most prominent in our region. We didn’t have any real resources or professionals that knew how to help us either. I’m quite an educated person myself, but I really didn’t know how to get the support within my community. All the supports that we had were in Melbourne, based at the Royal Children’s Hospital.

I didn’t know what the roadshow would be when I first heard about it. When I walked into the room at one of the roadshow events, I was very surprised and found it was a way of inclusively inviting all stakeholders in the LGBTI community, and allies, community members and partners to come together, share resources, share understanding, and just promote inclusion within the community, especially in the rural region.

What the roadshow did was give me the direct links within my community. But more importantly, they also informed us of our rights, and were able to help. By the end of the roadshow, and by the time that they’d left, my children for the first time had their own names on Medicare cards, Centrelink cards, and had some identification, rather than having to be a nameless, faceless someone, or using their pre-gender name.

Out of the roadshow, and out of some petitioning and other work behind the scenes with amazing people in our community, and our wonderful city council, we have a rainbow flag flying. For my children and the local youth group of gender-queer identifying kids, that was a symbol that it was okay, and that they had a place. They weren’t displaced; they were part of the town, and they were acknowledged as such.

For my family, it was lifechanging and lifesaving. In a time that was in the middle of the marriage equality plebiscite, where my children were a huge target, and were actively targeted by negative campaigning integrated into our homes (through television, media, social media), the roadshow gave me a forum to seek some safe, secure and genuine assistance.

In my family circumstance, it really was the difference between survival and non-survival. I also think that it’s opened up a new dialogue, and a new age in regional Victoria, where our community feel like part of the community. We’re not these little fringes anymore.

Finding new connections and friendships

I used to regularly travel from Melbourne for work up to one of the country towns. I was thinking of moving there and a lot of my friends said, “Look, you’re transgender; it won’t be safe to live in a country town.” I asked about the experience of other trans people in country towns, and people told me that they were just tolerated.

But the roadshow came through just before I moved up here. I thought we might get five or six people around a table, but here was about 40 people; we had teachers, nurses, police, and people from the community health centre and neighbourhood house. I think it really dispelled the myth that there was no support for LGBTIQ people in country towns. It was life-changing, because it made me feel welcomed. So by the time I actually moved into the town, I felt safe, and involved.

One of the most significant things for me was that we had people come along that weren’t necessarily from an organisation, and they weren’t LGBTIQ; they just came along to learn. Two of the best friends I’ve got in town came to that meeting, and if they hadn’t come to that, if the roadshow hadn’t come to town, I wouldn’t have met them. But when I first moved in, they invited me around to their place for dinner, and I think that sense of individual inclusion is really important, to be invited into a community. The roadshow was important for me in starting friendships.

The roadshow brought people out of the woodwork. Because it was high profile, it broke through a lot of the structures that we would typically come up against when trying to get involvement and commitment from different organisations, services and groups.

It was the first time that LGBTIQ issues were actually the agenda for a meeting. In country towns, often there’s a person in the community health centre that is there to talk about and work on a range of issues such as family violence, indigenous issues and LGBTI issues. There are all these things, and often they get overwhelmed. It was interesting just to have a meeting and a function that just centred around LGBTIQ.

The power to be me, to speak up

When I moved to the town around ten years ago, there were not visible signs of LGBTI support anywhere; nothing was mentioned on the local shire or health services websites. I got very lonely and depressed and was thinking about suicide. I knew of a support group in Melbourne, so I used to go there for support, and to socialise because there was nothing here.

About three years ago, at the age of 64, I made the decision to identify my true self and began dressing myself as a woman and I found I could do it without any worry. There was a girl I knew through a work mate, and I attached myself to her and that started me getting out.Because I knew I I could go to that supermarket near her work, and I knew I'd have someone there if I needed them.

The roadshow came to town and I got the invite to go on the bus to travel to different towns as a local advocate. Friendships really blossomed on the bus trip; we got to know and understand each other and have kept in contact. I told my story to different people including health workers, Shire people, police, community workers, and community members. I felt empowered again.

For me, personally, I grew because I actually got to speak my story in my home town. It’s outed me in my home town more than I was before. It’s summed up by a guy who hadn’t seen me since I retired from work a year ago, who read an article about me and Ro Allen at the roadshow, he came up to me and said, “Haven’t you put yourself out there? Well done, good on you. You’ve probably saved a life, but you’ll never know it.” And I think, “That’s the roadshow.”

Personally, it gave me more power to be me. At community dinners every time Ro Allen stood up to speak, she would always do the traditional owners and welcome, and then she would acknowledge her LGBTI elders, and on one occasion she indicated she was referring to me. One day I said to her, "Ro, I've worked out what you mean by elder. It's because of my age, and what I do, and what I know within the community." And she just smiled at me; so I worked out what she meant. I've been given that power; I now use this when I speak at community events.

Our shire passed a motion that they would publicly support marriage equality, however they did not deliver on this commitment. I went to the local council community consultation meeting and I said “I'm standing here as an LGBTI elder”. The mayor said, "You're here to talk about marriage equality." I said, "No, I'm here to talk about council's not promoting the motion which they committed to”. Because I became good friends with the general manager of Switchboard Victoria on the bus, I called them up beforehand and asked them what key statistics and information I should present to the council. I presented these to the mayor and councillors, reporters and people in the public gallery and told them “it’s about time you really, really did, do what you said you would do”.

No action was taken, they just said “We better put our running shoes on hadn't we? Thank you for your time." As I left, a couple of old guys in their 70s got up and they all said, "Well done, you really gave it to them, and I'm voting, "Yes."