Gender and sexuality leaders tour Bendigo, Charlton and Kerang to advocate for end to discrimination

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Victoria’s leading advocates for gender and sexuality have set their sights on Bendigo as the next stop on a statewide tour shoring up the wellbeing of LGBTI people in regional areas. 

An initiative of the state’s first gender and sexuality commissioner, Ro Allen, the LGBTI “roadshow” has visited almost 20 towns in regional Victoria, meeting with same-sex attracted and gender diverse community members. 

Representatives from counselling service Switchboard, Shepparton social service Kildonan Uniting Care and the Victorian AIDS Council will be among those to join Ms Allen in Bendigo, Charlton and Kerang from Monday.  

The series of workshops and community dinners not only seek to connect queer people with one another but also with services available to support them.

It is expected a forum at the Capital on Tuesday morning will culminate in a community action plan for the advancement of LGBTI residents.  

Ms Allen said “pockets of discrimination” still remained in regional areas, places LGBTI people did not feel comfortable to express their identity openly.

But visits so far were both welcoming and constructive, she said.

One of the most common requests encountered on the roadshow was for advice to help young people coming out as same-sex attracted or gender diverse, Ms Allen said.

“The main thing you can tell someone is that they’ll be loved no matter what, because at the end of the day that’s all any of us are looking for,” the commissioner said.  

Asked about the state of play for LGBTI people in Bendigo, Ms Allen praised the city’s annual queer film festival as a stand-out event in a calendar otherwise lacking in LGBTI-themed events.

She explained it was a the role of the community’s LGBTI leaders to create networks for themselves and their allies. 

Ms Allen is a former residence of regional Victoria, having established the state’s first rural support group for same-sex attracted youth in Shepparton two decades ago. 

Also from Shepparton is Kildonan Uniting Care officer Damien Stevens, who has twice welcomed the roadshow to his hometown and who will share his expertise with Bendigo community members from Monday. 

Mr Stevens said it was a chance for queer people to put together a “wishlist” of wants for their town or city. He expected councillors, city planners, health workers and school leaders to be among those present at the events. 

“It’s about asking, ‘What can each of us bring to the table?’” he said. 

The roadshow arrives during a landmark year for LGBTI people in Bendigo, one that has seen a rainbow-themed contingent march in the city’s Easter parade and witnessed the raising of the rainbow flag beside the town hall.  

A candlelight vigil was held on Sunday night to mark one year since 49 people were shot dead inside inside Florida gay club Pulse. 

The event was also to remember the internment, torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya.