There was something incredibly unique and powerful about our LGBTIQA+ community and allies coming together for the inaugural Canberra Together; it showed the best of who we are and what we are capable of when we make space for each other and work together.
Held on Ngunnawal land, Canberra Together was a community symposium for LGBTIQA+ people and allies at Ainslie Arts Centre on 23 and 24 September. The community-led, two day program included plenary sessions, participatory workshops, panel events and presentations. Thanks to the generous support of the Office for LGBTIQ+ Affairs a number of sponsored places were provided to ensure that financial means were not a barrier to participation. This meant that over 45% of Canberra Together attendees were able to attend at no cost.
Centred on a diversity of voices and the theme of celebrating respect and difference, Canberra Together provided a valuable opportunity for our community to come together, connect with each other and discuss issues of importance. To paraphrase one of the opening plenary speakers, “we were there to learn together and unlearn together.”
The symposium was opened by Selina Walker, a local Ngunnawal woman, who delivered a moving Welcome to Country. This was followed by our exceptional MCs, Sue Webeck and Andrew Bell, who framed the conversation by encouraging us to be brave and fearless in our approach and make sure we bring others along with us. Additionally, we acknowledged those who were missing and what we can do to make and hold space for them, and ensure that their experience and needs are part of ongoing engagement.
We were also fortunate to hear from two guest speakers, Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality, Ro Allen and Churchill Fellow and Project Manager of the Victorian Trans and Gender Diverse in Community Health initiative, Jeremy Wiggins as part of the opening plenary.
Other plenaries had a distinct focus on particular issues including those faced by the intersex and asexual communities and queer people with a refugee or migrant experience. These talks provided insight into the important issues facing these community members and highlighted what meaningful allyship looks like.
Over the next two days, the breakout sessions, panel events and presentations covered a diverse range of LGBTIQA+ topics and included the health needs of trans and gender diverse people, the importance of queer research and public thinking, and the impacts of minority stress in public discourse.
Domestic and family violence and the issues faced by LGBTIQA+ people with disability were another two highly relevant issues which were discussed. These sessions were led by local community members who shared their lived experience and expertise and provided valuable insight into the challenges they face and solutions to overcome these challenges. It was a privilege to hear so many personal narratives throughout the event and have the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of issues across our communities.
The symposium was both a new and highly relevant experience for me. It has initiated a very powerful conversation within Canberra’s LGBTIQA+ communities about how we can work together by celebrating our diversity and respecting our differences. Canberra Together was notable for the collective willingness of participants to be vulnerable, to speak their truths and foster the courage of others to join the conversation. We shared ideas and challenged concepts, we listened and learnt but most importantly, we connected.
Canberra Together is an initiative of The Equality Project in partnership with ACT Government Office for LGBTIQ+ Affairs, the AIDS Action Council, A Gender Agenda and Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres. The symposium would not have been possible without the sponsorship of EY.