Colac LGBTI group paves the way for social inclusion

Pauley Johnson says Colac Otway’s new pride and diversity group has given LGBTI people “visibility” in the community and she looks forward to seeing a rainbow flag fly high over Colac one day.

Pauley Johnson says Colac Otway’s new pride and diversity group has given LGBTI people “visibility” in the community and she looks forward to seeing a rainbow flag fly high over Colac one day.

Pauley, who is transgender but only came out publicly just over two years ago, is among the founding members of Colac Otway Pride and Diversity, which formed in February and already has more than 150 members.

The group marched in Colac’s Kana parade last month and received strong support from the crowd that lined the street.

But Pauley can see that the group has plenty of work ahead, particularly to support young LGBTI people in the community and pushing for changes that will help and support the community in general.

The arrival of the State Government’s LGBTI Equality Roadshow last July helped to identify the need for a pride and diversity group in the Colac area and started discussion on issues affecting LGBTI residents and visitors.

Pauley said the roadshow and visit from Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Ro Allen brought together people in the community who knew what they had dealt with and what needed to
change.

“I was still on the farm at Simpson when the LGBTI Equality Roadshow came to Colac and I went along to that and got involved with wanting to have a group for people who were gender diverse.

“When I came out there was no visible place to go and talk to people who understood.

“One of the things the group is very conscious of is wanting to support our youth.

“Having conservations in our own community, you learn that people who have a good job or own a business and have a supportive relationship and family fare very well in the Colac community and we never experience anything negative toward us.

“But we still have people in the community who are criticised, bullied or harassed for being gay etc.”

Pauley said the group understood that young people were coming out and still going through difficulties, “and there’s no network or visible support for these young people”.

“There’s no physical sign, no rainbow flag where you can go in and talk to someone and get support,” she said, explaining why the establishment of the diversity group was so important.

“We’ve got a Facebook page and we‘ll use that to organise support in the community.

“I think going forward there’ll probably be some social nights as well as the more official talks about what we need as a community.

“It will give us visibility in the community; if we go out for dinner and put a rainbow flag on the table,” she said.

Pauley said the group would also look at issues such as public toilets.

“When I go to Colac, particularly if I have my three young children with me, I’m confronted with what toilet I go to,” she said.

“There’s an all-access disability toilet but it gets locked early, so it needs to stay open.

“But that would be an issue for a man with his daughter also; he might not want to let his young daughter go to the women’s toilet on her own but he can’t go in with her.

“Gender diverse people often look for gender neutral toilets, but so do many parents from the broader community.

“People can send a message to our Facebook page and someone will respond, but there needs to be a place to go, with a rainbow flag, and people can have a private discussion and get support.”

For the full story see today’s Colac Herald.

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