The Better Together LGBTIAQ+ National Conference is organised by Equality Australia and this year was held in the outskirts of Melbourne over 2 days in January. The event brings together LGBTIAQ+ people from across the country to explore and discuss their hardships, their difficulties, their wins and what work still needs to be done for community acceptance for all the aspects of our diverse community.
Over these 2 days, I attended panel discussions rather that workshops for a couple of reasons; this was my first conference and I didn't know what to expect and I felt that I was here to listen and learn from other people’s perspectives. I also made sure to attend panels with topics that were outside my usual interactions; how much more can I learn from white gay men? There was plenty to choose from, the 2 days were full of diversity; from transgender sex workers, immigrants still learning English, gay Muslims, Indigenous issues and the impacts of the language and words we use.
It was a new experience for me. I come from a small city in Tasmania and despite being a champion for diversity where I live and work, the diversity I champion has been theoretical – This was room full of 650 people who come from all parts of the LGBTIAQ+ rainbow. Everyone was polite, sensitive to others needs and feelings as it was going to be a difficult 2 days talking about issues and impacts that were going to be quite personal and confronting.
In the late-morning of day one, there was a plenary where a young person with autism spoke to the room about her struggles navigating sexuality while being autistic – she struggled with societal norms, interpreting body language and subtext, everything had to be kind of literal for her to understand. She also had a sound sensitivity. When we applauded her early on in her talk, she explained that she appreciated our support and our applause, but it’s very hard for her to hear it and not immediately leave and find a quiet place to recover. She said that there were many people on the autism spectrum here today and many of them, and others, have similar sound sensitivities – impacting their personal lives; they cannot go out with friends to a bar or club, they struggles to go to plays and movies where they can’t control the volume, etc. She demonstrated to us the sign language action for applause and over the next day and half, this silent action of appreciation became the norm for 650 people, with barely a clap during the last session of the event.
When I returned to work after this conference, I shared that story and I demonstrated the action to my colleagues. I work with over 200 people and I know that some of these people have autism and other issues that may make someone sensitive to loud sounds, so I’ve started to encourage the use of the sign language as well. If all 650 participants of that conference have returned to their workplaces and communities with the same knowledge and attempting the same change, then that one story from that one person could have a significant impact on many communities.
This small example demonstrates to me why we need events like this. Given the opportunity to share her story and her needs, the mass was able to adjust their actions and behaviors to accommodate the needs of a few. No one in audience said, we’ve always clapped and we’re going to keep clapping because that is how it should be done – every person there understood why this should be changed because we listened. This girl was given an opportunity to share and we listened. That is important.
So many people shared their struggles and the overwhelming message from every part of our LGBTIAQ+ community was that, as a community, we talk a lot about inclusion and acceptance but we’re not so good at it in practice. People with disabilities, people of colour, people who struggle to speak English, people with different cultural backgrounds, people with faith, Indigenous Australians, sex workers, transgender people, intersex people or anything other than cisgender white gay and lesbians don’t feel like they have a place in our LGBTIAQ+ community and that needs to change.
Diversity is more than being gay; It’s important that we speak and act in a way that welcomes everyone into the conversation and fight for equality, not just people like you.
Written by Garry Wakefield
I’m a Tasmanian who works in the LGBT+ community as an organiser. I host & produce the LGBT+ focussed podcast “Queer Life Stories”. I have a passion for inclusivity in the LGBT+ community and work towards a goal of not being needed.
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