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'Better Together' is set to bring 800+ community members to Adelaide

Better Together, the community focused conference facilitated by The Equality Project, will see 800 plus LGBTIQA+ community members meet in Adelaide this week to discuss a vast array of issues.

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Ahead of the gathering Graeme Watson spoke to Chief Executive Officer Jason Tuazon-McCheyne about the organisation’s mission and what they hope this week’s event will achieve.

For people who aren’t familiar with it, how would describe The Equality Project?

We’re a national health promotion charity that serves rainbow communities and their allies. We’re six years old, we have four permanent staff, and we run the few things. We run the Better Together national conference. We also do leadership, training, campaigning training, advocacy, masterclasses health and well-being workshops.

Nationally, we’ve trained over 3,500 people, you yourself have been one of those things a few years back. We also do work with organisations both nonprofit and public and corporate, and employee resource groups, around upskilling them to be more competent in our spaces.

We’re about building bridges, but actually we’re probably ‘The Equity Project’, because to all of our events, over 40% of people attend on a scholarship or at no cost.

It’s a really important thing making events accessible so people can go, I guess it doesn’t become sort of elitist, and it allows everyone to be part of the conversation.

We’ve got over 800 people coming to Adelaide, and anyone who ever wants to attend one of our events gets to go.

For Better Together, it’s a little bit different to other conferences, how it’s structured, how it’s put together, what gets to be in the program? 

The program is the biggest yet. Ninety-four sessions over two and a half days. It is actually community led. So basically, we’re kind of like the infrastructure that logistically puts it together and then all the session facilitators, speakers, and topics are put forward when proposals open and we basically make space for pretty much everybody to participate.

There’s everything from a sexuality to sex work, from issues to do with Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander persons, to HIV, to education, workplace, seniors, how we parent trans kids, the intersex community, refugees and asylum seekers, queer men and women of color and living in the regions.

We’ve got international guests, Lady Phyll from UK Black Pride, and Dr Robin Ochs from Boston, who’s the leading bisexual researcher globally are coming. We try and have some international guests to come in and participate in the conversation because it’s good to have people from outside our bubbles. But actually, at the end of the day, it’s about having as many diverse voices in the room as possible.

We ran caucuses previous years, but this year, we’re not running caucuses, we’re going to hold a Human Centered Design Workshop, a pre-conference event where fifty people from around the country of diverse sexuality and gender identities, who are going to work on the idea of what sort of world are we trying to create?

We’ll have some very rich data at the end of the day, because I’m not sure what we’ve ever sat down and thought about nationally, across the spectrum, what are we actually trying to achieve?

We’re not an advocacy or campaigning organisation, we’re a health promotion charity, but we bring the advocates and campaigners together because the theory of change around our work is that we create space through our programs, whatever it is, that people might like each other, spend time with each other, then they might collaborate together with people who are different to themselves and other organisations that are working in the same space, or similar spaces, or different spaces.

How many times it’s Better Together been on now?

This is our fifth national conference, but our six overall because we did a regional one in Canberra. First of all, in 2018 there’s been Melbourne, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, Adelaide and then next year in Geelong. So, I’m super proud of that.

Over time is what we’re talking about changing, are the new topics coming into this conversation space?

We feel really proud to have brought the intersex community into our spaces. Most of the bisexual networks have formed, or had their first meetings, at Better Together. Having a strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice inside the conference has also been important.

All mob come at no cost, anyone who’s deaf comes at no cost. People with a disability get to come on a scholarship, anyone who’s got intersex variation gets to come on scholarship, and transgender and gender diverse people access our scholarships all the time, they’re about thirty per cent of our attendees.

The conversation is totally emerging because when we started it was the end of the marriage equality campaign, and now five or six years later and a lot of it is around gender identity, but we’re also focused on our vision of creating a world that fully affirms LGBTQIA+ people.

How do we actually change that day to day, and I actually think the conversation this year, is going to flip a little bit towards how we can be better allies, because I’m not sure our spaces are very good at how we deal with non-queer people. Depending on where you live, we are somewhere between four and ten per cent of the population. The other 90% plus, we need to engage many of them to get the work done. We’re part of a broader Australian community.

OUTinPerth will be reporting live from Better Together throughout the conference.


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