On Thursday February 2, the Fitzroy Town Hall was transformed into a discussion room for community members, business leaders and LGBTIQ activists to advocate for equality within workplaces across Victoria.
With many issues raised over the course of the night, the prospect that everybody should feel comfortable and empowered in their workplace was at the core.
The event, put on by The Yarra City Council and Polykala, was part of the launch for a new collaborative project, Working With Pride – a leadership program designed to encourage managers and emerging leaders to create a fair and inclusive workplace environment.
The launch presented a panel of LGBTIQ activists and spokespeople answering questions from Budi Sudarto, as well as an improvised interpretive dance by Melbourne Playback, encapsulating the stories of individuals in the room.
On the panel, co-founder of Streat Cafe, Bec Scott said, “it’s critical for everyone to feel inclusive, but not just for queer young people, for everyone. All of us want to work somewhere where we are recognised for who we are, we’re celebrated for who we are, and we do our best work under those conditions.”
Scott’s organisation Streat runs a series of cafes employing young people in the LGBTI community who are disadvantaged or homeless, some due to abandonment after coming out to their families.
Brenda Appleton, assigned male at birth and transitioned 16 years ago, said, “I’m happy to now be talking about what it is like to be your real self in the workplace, it’s so important.”
Appleton has also made history as the first trans co-chair of an advisory group to any government in Australia.
Additional panelists included Rowena (Ro) Allen – the Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality, and Jason Ball – The 2017 Victorian Young Australian of the Year for his work with the LGTBIQ community in sport.
Despite some organisations doing their part to be inclusive, Appleton discussed studies suggesting that up to 60% of LGBTI people are still not comfortable to be open about their sexuality or gender identity in the workplace.
“In the trans-gender community, 42% of us attempt suicide at some stage in our lives. It’s not easy being yourself when yourself doesn’t meet societies expectations,” Appleton said.
Ball, who is also an ambassador for Beyond Blue said this negative attitude very much translates into sporting clubs.
“The LGBTI community [is] very much over-represented when it comes to negative outcomes and sport, in particular, is an environment where the LGBTI community doesn’t feel safe, welcome and included,” he said.
Working with grassroots football leagues and the AFL, Ball has seen more LGBTI inclusion and acceptance from when he was younger.
Growing up in a small town, he always thought his local football club of Yarra Glenn would be the one place that he wouldn’t be able to come out.
“As a result of homophobic language not only used but seen as acceptable, seen as part of the game,” he said.
“It’s a small community, everyone knows everyone’s business, so the fear that if there’s a negative reaction to who you are, can really cost you everything.”
After coming out, Ball realised, “a lot of the homophobic language from my teammates was coming from a place of ignorance as opposed to a place of hatred and callus towards people who are gay.”
The Yarra Glenn Football Club has since founded the Pride Cup. Initiated in 2014, the cup celebrates diversity and inclusion with the 50-metre line painted a rainbow and incorporates education for footballers about LGBTI inclusion.
Inspired by the Pride Cup, the St Kilda Football Club and the Sydney Football Club hosted the Pride Game last year, played at Etihad Stadium.
Panellist Ro Allen has seen the negative impact of workplace inequality in rural communities and is fighting for education on LGBTI inclusion to disseminate past city boundaries.
“We need to make sure, not just the Melbourne bubble, but all of Victoria is a safe place,” Allen said.
Allen has met with CEO’s of many major companies and believes there are some champions out there willing to get the ball rolling.
“It’s easy to be the second or third company, but it’s hard to be the first one to set up a pride network.”
When it comes to the government, Allen has already brought about massive change.
“I’m very proud to say all of the eight departments within the Victorian government signed up to Pride in Diversity; every single department has a pride network,” she said.
Pride in Diversity is a national not-for-profit employer support program for LGBTI workplace inclusion, that has published the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI), setting national standards for workplace policies and procedures surrounding LGBTI inclusion.
Whilst this may be a great stepping stone in the right direction, all panelists believe there is more to be done, and education is vital.
“A lot of what we encounter is fear of the unknown rather than rejection of trans and gender diverse and LGBTI people,” Appleton said.
“If we can remove that fear, if we can provide knowledge and understanding then I think we [can] open the conversation.”
The panelists ended the night on a positive note, agreeing that the power of allies, personal stories and empathy can go a long way.
“I grew up in the most homophobic environment with a dad who, in the 80’s [would scream] at the TV ‘that’s death for all faggots thank goodness’,” Scott said.
“But my dad would be one of the greatest allies we’ve got now for queers.”
“Yes we can change the big policy settings and there’s a lot of things that are broken and need to be fixed, but for me, it’s all of those moments of kindness that matter most.”
Written By Caitlyn Leggett