Parra matters for gay people as much as the inner city
I think I speak on behalf of any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Australian who lives in the suburbs of our big cities: being able to express who you are freely and without fear of judgement - or worse yet, fear for your safety - just because you are different is still an issue.
The controversy surrounding Parramatta Council’s homophobic approach to the allegedly “offensive’’ banners at Twenty10’s stall during the Rediscover the River event, only serves to exacerbate that issue.
Although I’ve lived in the Parramatta Council area - the gateway to western Sydney - since I was 11, it wasn’t until I became a journalist with the Parramatta Advertiser a year ago that I really saw it as gay-friendly and progressive.
I genuinely believed Parramatta Council was setting a great example for fellow western Sydney councils, and other suburban LGAs, by embracing and celebrating everything that made it diverse - not just the stereotypical middle class family residents.
Council supports the Parramatta Queer Forum, the annual Parramatta Pride Picnic, International Day Against Homophobia, and even the Queer Screen film festival at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres.
These, on top of the range of multicultural and arts groups and events they support, made me appreciate living in what I believe is one of the most diverse areas of Sydney. But the Twenty10 signage incident last week was simply wrong.
You see, I also happen to be gay, so what happened inevitably struck a chord with me. I’m baffled as to what was “offensive’’ about the banners at Twenty10’s stall during the council event.
They simply explained services the GLBT youth organisation offered, and mentioned the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and same-sex. I’m sure you can agree that that’s totally G-rated.
The fact that Twenty10 was asked to remove its banners after it had been invited to take part in the event by council is a concern. It is incredibly sad that the group made an effort to branch out from inner-city Sydney to extend to the western suburbs, only to face this kind of discrimination.
It deters other GLBT organisations from considering getting involved with suburban councils and events, and this would make so many GLBT who can’t afford to live in gay-friendly inner-city suburbs miss out on many services.
What’s more of a concern is the statement from council on Monday, which in my view deflected responsibility to the event organisers (despite the fact it was an official council event, mind you) and denied that Lord Mayor John Chedid had asked Twenty10 quit the event.
The somewhat inadequate statement was met with public criticism, and some councillors have also said Cr Chedid needed to break his silence and apologise to Twenty10, as they feared for Parramatta Council’s reputation.
I agree – but only if the apology was sincere.
Twenty10 acting managing director Terence Humphreys said it was his decision to leave the council event, simply because there was no point of having a stall without the banners. No one would know who they were and what they were all about.
They would’ve been invisible - just as so many GLBT residents in Australian city suburbs often are.
It sent a message to the youth of Parramatta, and western Sydney, that you could identify as GLBT, as long as you keep it to yourself and don’t expect to feel included at community events. It was a blatant example of homophobia.
And I sympathise with any local GLBT who attended the Rediscover the River event with the intent of knowing there would be a safe place to hang out, only to have that dashed away because someone in council deemed those stall banners “offensive”.
I really do hope this public relations crisis embroiling Parramatta Council is resolved soon, so they can get back to being a progressive, diversity-embracing and leading example for suburban LGAs.
Mr Humphreys summed it up well, and it applies to all councils: “They need to know that it’s not OK for a public office to have that power to marginalise people, they need to lead by example.”
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