Yes to inclusivity

File photograph



LOUD applause rang around the gallery at the Gippsland Performing Arts Centre as Latrobe City Council endorsed its support for the LGBTIQA+ community in the latest council meeting on Monday, May 1.

Councillor Tracie Lund championed the motion for council to release a public statement regarding the council’s commitment to including trans and gender-diverse people in the region and opposing transphobia and trans-misogyny.

The motion also notes existing local initiatives that support people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, intersex, queer and/or questioning.

Council stated they would support the Gippsland Pride Festival, which provides a safe and welcoming place for trans and gender people in the community.

This comes after Latrobe City Councillor Melissa Ferguson received extensive criticism for her Twitter posts earlier this month, with some Twitter users labelling some of her comments as hate speech and transphobic.

Gippsland Pride Initiative took to Facebook to condemn recent comments made by a Latrobe City Council official, stating they were “reprehensible, harmful, hatefully ignorant and worse still, factually incorrect”.

The motion also noted strategic objective 3.8 of the ‘Living Well Latrobe’ plan to ensure that council recognises and values the rights and social needs of the LGBTIQA+ community, which aims to address discrimination and access to council services and events.

The motion also allows council officers to make and present a report to council based on the recommendations of both local and state reports, including the state government LGBTQ+ strategy and the Rainbow Brick Road Report.

The Rainbow Brick Road report was an academic study done by those in the local community led by the Gippsland Pride initiative. The report will be released on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) day on Wednesday, May, 17.

Cr Lund raised this motion to support the Latrobe Valley’s diverse community with cheers from supporters of the Gippsland Pride Initiative attending the meeting.

She described how her daughter felt “powerless” and “overwhelmed” by the discrimination she witnessed.

“We know our friends and family in that community who are already facing considerable challenges throughout their life and suffer significantly higher rates of self-harm, depression and suicide than the rest of our community,” she said.

“I note the disgusting and cowardly behaviour that we saw on the steps of the Victorian Parliament on the 18th of March this year. I note it has caused a great deal of distress and sadness to our community, and frankly, it has no place in our community.

“Data from the Victorian Agency of Health information shows that five per cent of Latrobe residents identify as LGBTIQA+, close to 4000 residents.”

In her speech, Cr Lund commended on the work the Gippsland Pride initiative does in supporting the LGBTIQA+ community.

“As councillors and leaders in our community, we have a responsibility to support everyone, and we should never be neutral when situations of injustice arise,” she said.

Cr Bradley Law, Cr Graeme Middlemiss and the Deputy Mayor, Cr Dan Clancey, all spoke in favour of Cr Lund’s motion, despite opposition arguments from Cr Dale Harriman based on the motion’s wording which he argued would result in unintended consequences.

Cr Harriman’s argument was centred on the definition of trans misogyny and its use in the motion, describing the decision of peak sporting bodies not allowing for trans athletes to compete in sport as a trans misogynistic one, which would then leave a grey area for council in their role with leasing sporting facilities.

Cr Ferguson did not speak about recent accusations regarding her Twitter feed at council, but did comment on the debate concerned with support for the LGBTIQA+ community.

“When I cast my vote on behalf of 77,000 plus people in Latrobe City, and it didn’t sit right with me without reading all the documentation that was mentioned in the NOM (notice of motion), that’s why I chose to abstain,” said Cr Ferguson.

The council’s Chief Executive Officer, Steve Piasente, clarified in the meeting that the supporting motion is a reassurance to the trans and gender-diverse community and will not change how the council delivers services.

Caitlin Grigsby, president of the Gippsland Pride Initiative, was one of the six public speakers at the latest council meeting; she spoke to the Express after the motion was approved.

With a deep breath, Ms Grigsby said: “There’s a relief, and at the end of the day, a realistic relief that all we asked for was just an assurance. There wasn’t a miracle cure provided tonight, and you’d think we were debating whether to go to war or not, but it is a win and significant and wonderful and something very much needed for our community.”

Noting the gallery of about 40 onlookers that was quite animated in their opposition to the council supporting this specific motion, Ms Grigsby said that people don’t always have to agree.

“Gippsland Pride’s opinion is that a lot of anger and aggression is generally from ignorance and not often malicious, so often you’ll hear people clap because there’s an interesting or funny commentary amidst the ‘yuckiness’, but there were people in the room that was scared and confused and don’t understand, and that’s okay… but the people that needed to hear this had a good result tonight,” she said.

The Gippsland Pride initiative, alongside the local community, wanted to provide a data report that was academically verified, which is a first for regional communities. The council will use Gippsland Pride’s Rainbow Brick Road report to ground their officer’s research.

“The Rainbow Brick Road Report was a survey undertaken in 2022 because the census does not currently capture or provide for LGBTIQA identities, so what we found was the power of our stories was very temporary and limited and fatiguing,” Ms Grigsby said.

Regarding protests at a Monash City Council meeting over a drag queen event, Ms Grigsby said those fears of violence and abuse remain in this region.

“Those fears are here that’s why we are here tonight. We don’t all have to agree on everything; the things happening in the US are leeching into our communities and even here tonight,” she said.

“There is a real fear, of course, there is, but also, there’s a greater determination that our kids and our community and our adults have connection and opportunity just as much as anybody else.”

Despite the opposition, council approved the motion in a move that mirrors other municipality councils across the state to put in writing a council’s support for their entire community.

While The Gippsland Pride Initiative takes the council’s support as a win, Ms Grigsby will continue to work to better the outcomes and opportunities of the LGBTIQA+ community.

“This doesn’t magically educate overnight what it does it says from a conservative space, from a council space in Gippsland to simply affirm that you are welcome here and you are provided opportunity here … is the next step because acceptance is what we are looking for not miracles so council and their statement are important, its momentum and it’s in the right direction,” she said.