Panel: Queer Inclusion Stories

This panel discussion was held in Bankstown, Sydney and was hosted by the Inclusive Communities Network.

The panel consisted of Lauren Foy (MC), Divina Blanca, Virgo Hawkins, Siobhan Irving, Peter Polites, and Jinny-Jane Smith.

Bios from the event Facebook page:
Jinny-Jane Smith is a Walbunja woman of the Yuin nation, and her matriarchal lineage is Wiradjuri. Jinny spent the first 26 years of her life in western suburbs (Mt Druitt) and has very extensive family kinnection’s out there. Jinny has worked in various community organizations and has been actively advocating the plight of Aboriginal LGTBIQ community for well over decade now.

Virgo Hawkins. I will be representing the Trans Community & sex workers. I myself am a trans woman born to Maori parents. I am in my final year studying community services so I can work within the trans community. On the day of the event I would love to share stories and experiences that have helped me in my journey as someone who is a part of the lgtbqi community.

Divina is a queer Filipino Australian born and raised in Liverpool in South West Sydney. She’s been involved in various forms of activism for almost a decade and is incredibly passionate about economic justice for people of colour through workplace organising and continuing to fight for queer rights in Western Sydney and in communities of high rates of people of colour.

Peter Polites is a writer of Greek descent from Western Sydney. As part of the SWEATSHOP writers collective, Peter has written and performed pieces all over Australia. His first novel, Down the Hume, was shortlisted for a NSW Premier’s Literary Award in 2017.

Siobhan Irving didn’t have a bio on the event page, but she is a bisexual woman representing a queer muslim group. 

The following are my notes on the discussion (any errors are mine).

The event opened with a Welcome to Country followed by a reading from the Uluru Statement.

Q: What does this event mean to you?
Siobhan – As a bisexual woman, I’ve been mostly insulated by being married to a cishet man, but my work with the Muslim queer community has broadened my perspective. (She mentioned she has a PhD in sexual and gender diversity of Muslims in Sydney.) This event is an opportunity to raise awareness and open discussion to a wider audience, as well as to create networking relationship.
Jinny-Jane – For me being lesbian is less of a factor in my life than being mob. Good to have an intersectional conversation.
Virgo – This event is about learning to speak out, finding my voice. I didn’t really discuss my identity with my parents, and spent too long being quiet. My grandfather helped me start to speak out.
Divina – It’s about trying to find community and to be accepted in a community. I grew up in a conservative community and being involved in queer activism helped me stop feeling alone and isolated. I strive for a better (more inclusive) world.
Peter – As a youth I often behaved different in different communities. I think we are a juncture of queer generations where kids are more open than I was able to be.

Q. How did the gay marriage postal vote affect you?
Siobhan – The vote mobilized people but we need to not let the momentum drop. It got people talking, and we can capitalize on this open discussion. We need to talk more about how allies can help and support queer communities. And we need to ask the hard questions. Why does fear of LGBTIQA+ people still exist? Where does this hate come from? If you know what drives animosity, then you can drive change.
Peter – The recent case in the bookshop in Melbourne highlights a couple of things for me. Firstly the fear of queer people around hate speech and the consequences. In the bookshop, they fought back against plain clothes police, because they thought it was a hate crime in action. This exacerbated the problem. And we have to consider inter-sectionalism – that case was primarily about policing brown and black bodies with their sexuality being secondary (to the police).
Divina – I was hired to fill a gap in queer activism. Many queer spaces are very white and people struggle to understand intersectionalism.
Jinny-Jane – My first priority is Aboriginal activism. That’s how people see me and interact with me.
Virgo – I’m a simple person. I exist as I am and everyone needs to see all of me. I can’t separate the different parts of my identity. I’m me.

Next a video on microaggressions was played.

Q. What is the impact of microaggressions in your life?

Peter – Everyone has different levels of privilege and that impacts how many bites you get. After enough bites, you develop a thick skin like an armor, and you can celebrate that strength. We all need to remember that marriage equality is fragile – legislative changes can be reversed. (Note – just look at the abortion changes in the USA and how they police people’s bodies).
Lauren – And legal equality doesn’t equal social equality.
Siobhan – Microaggressions give you resilience. “How did your family take it?” is a common question for queer Muslims. Microaggressions can also be body language, not just words. Another common one are the questions, “But don’t you know that in your community/religion/country…” Yes. We are very aware of those discussions, legal issues, and stereotypes. Mostly, it doesn’t come from malice, just unconscious bias.
Jinny-Jane – “Is it acceptable in your culture?” is a common question. The answer is yes, but when you have a prominent person like Anthony Mundine spouting nonsense, it adds to the incorrect perception.
Divina – Microaggressions are tiring. They pile on and one, and it all adds up. Shared a story about going out to dinner, holding hands with girlfriend, and having two rude comments shouted from car windows at her within a few minutes of each other. Easier to stay home.
Lauren – When public figures, like Israel Folau, make homophobic comments, it gives the general public more licence to be more aggressive.
Virgo – I think about the future and it’s sad to see these hurtful ideas continue. The harmful stuff keeps going.

The panel played a video about welcoming spaces.

Q. What does it feel like to you to have welcoming spaces?

Divina – Being safe means being treated like a human and being listened to. It’s the small things.
Jinny-Jane – Just be nice to me.

Q. What do you think of the Welcome Here sticker?

Siobhan – It can be useful to denote a safe space. It’s nice to be treated like a person, not a walking label. Also, the sticker increases awareness to cishet people, so they see us.
Virgo – It means being respected. It sucks that we need these stickers but it’s good to have them.
Peter – Back to Jinny-Jane’s point on Mundine, I’m always defending members of my community. But white straight men aren’t asked to defend Tony Abbott! Other people put their stereotypes back on you, eg “What did your Mum think?” “She bought my wedding ring, so she think I’m great.” There is this expectation that queer people need to confess their trauma all the time. We just want to exist in a safe way.

via GIPHY (Tony Abbott eating an onion)

Q. Can you give your younger self some advice?

Divina – Don’t be scared. The world gets better. When I was in year 8, I asked my friends what they would do if another friend came out as gay. Some weren’t okay with that, while others were fine. Those who were fine are still my friends today. Just be who you are.
Virgo – Don’t shrink yourself to make others comfortable. Why be the backup singer when you can be the star?
Jinny-Jane – Stay in school. My uncle died of AIDS when I was young, so initially I saw being queer as scary. Be true to yourself.
Peter – You don’t need legitimization from the white middle classes. Be the “woggy fag” you want to be.

That’s all from the panel. There were some discussions from the floor, but I didn’t note them, although one person’s take from the event was that everyone should be treated with dignity. “Don’t be an asshole.”


If you are new to my blog, I’m a cis-bi woman who writes romance novels. I have two books coming out later this year with LGBTIQA+ characters.
Liability – lesbian contemporary romance set in Sydney (June 2019)
Making Her Mark – contemporary sports romance set in Melbourne with bisexual heroine (mf romance) (August 2019)

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