Members of the police force, council and even Bendigo’s water supplier were among those to meet with LGBTI leaders today, part of an effort to improve the wellbeing of same-sex attracted and gender diverse people living in regional areas.
Bendigo was the 20th stop on the LGBTI roadshow, somewhat of a last frontier for gender and sexuality commissioner Ro Allen’s mobile initiative to end homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
The three-day visit, which also stops off in Charlton and Kerang, began on Monday with a workshop for locals, a session Kildonan Uniting Care worker and roadshow participant Damien Stevens called “LGBTI 101”.
Among those to attend the workshop was Coliban Water corporate strategy and governance general manager Roslyn Wai, who said she was there to “listen and learn” from the experiences of LGBTI people.
“It is so important for organisations to provide people with a safe work environment,” Ms Wai said.
“An inclusive workplace is one in which people genuinely feel they can be themselves.”
Among the roadshow’s leaders was Jax Jacki Brown, a sexuality and disability advocate who said simply changing their language could help organisations welcome LGBTI members.
Asking employees their preferred pronouns and avoiding gendered language – including husband, wife, boyfriend and girlfriend – when referring to partners could make a workplace more inclusive, Ms Brown said.
Ms Brown, who uses a wheelchair, also shared her experiences of being a queer person living with a disability.
“When we talk about giving people (with disabilities) better opportunities, we don’t often include their intimate lives,” she said.
“Talking about sexuality is considered risque (in the disability sector).”
LGBTI phone counselling service Switchboard was also a part of Monday’s seminar; its general manager, Jo Ball, said the service still received calls from people in regional Victoria facing crisis.
“(Suicide) is still a reality in our community, very much so,” Ms Ball said.
Social isolation was one factor that weighed heavily upon LGBTI people outside of Melbourne.
“Often they say things like, ‘I don’t know anyone who is LGBTI, this is the first time I’ve ever spoken to a trans or a gay person’,” Ms Ball said.
She said the roadshow was an opportunity to tell regional communities about the supports available to them.
“It can be life-changing, and it can be lifesaving.”
Representatives from Bendigo LGBTI groups Rainbow Eagles and Bendigo Queer Film Festival joined in the workshop.
The City of Greater Bendigo, La Trobe University and Carers Australia also took part.
The roadshow continues on Tuesday with a community planning session at The Capital.