LGBTIQ+ Visibility: You can’t be what you can’t see

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend the recent 2nd Annual Australian Ally Conference at Curtin University, and to facilitate a workshop about Lateral Hostility within the LGBTIQ+ community. Each conference session that I attended was totally different from the last, and presented a perspective that was specific to the lenses and experiences of that individual. In hearing so very many unique stories, there was one common theme that inevitably came up in each and every speaker’s presentation – Visibility.

“You can’t be what you can’t see”

A few months ago, I was invited to make a presentation at a business event. I walked in the room and immediately thought – “I’ve made a terrible mistake”. You know those times when you feel like you have a giant rainbow signal beaming from your forehead and everyone else in the space has never seen a rainbow in their life? It was one of those times. I tried to push pass it and stop making so many assumptions…. but chatting with half a dozen different folks I only served to reinforce my first impressions.

My anxiety was increasing, and I started to activate my “discrimination defence mechanism”- scanning for exits, trying not laugh so loud as to draw too much attention to myself, wondering what would be the earliest time that I could leave without seeming rude and identifying and actively avoiding the targets in the room who were most likely to say something homo/bi/trans phobic or launch into a spiral of internalised misogyny that could tip me over the edge.

Somehow, I made it through my speech and the discussion that followed. After I had done my little spiel I handed out my little rainbow heart lapel pins, encouraging folks to use them a way to start conversations about suicide and mental health and wellbeing.

Mentally checked out already, I was counting down the final few minutes before I could leave when I noticed that one person had brought

along their teenager to the event. This 15(ish) year old simultaneously looked desperate TO and NOT TO make eye contact with me. This young person came up to me when there was no-one else around and said “I love your logo, because it also could be interpreted as like inclusivity and queer pride, as well as the suicide and mental health stuff- right?”

That’s the point I said. People who want to see that in it, will. Then I told her my wife had designed it, and that as I also do diversity training, participants can also use the pins to signal their intention to create safe spaces for LGBTIQ+ folks. The young person then told me that they had seen our wedding on TV and then googled me and my wife and found that I wrote articles for OUTinPerth. They hadn’t known I was going to be at this event, but had recognised me when I first arrived. They asked where they could get OIP from and I told them, then I just happened to mention QLife and how it was an awesome space for people to find out about events, resources and ask questions- and also that parents, teachers and friends can use QLife to do the same.

Someone came and interrupted us and they walked off- but before they and their parent left, they walked past me and whispered “I am so glad there are people like you and things like OIP and QLife, you have no idea how much they help people like me.”

I stood there for a minute until they were gone, made polite goodbyes and got in the car and cried like a tiny child.

We were one of the first couples be legally wed when marriage equality passed. Because of this and because our celebrant was Famous Sharron we were asked if we would be open to having our wedding crossed live to on ABC’s 7:30 program. When first asked we immediately said No.Freaking.Way! Neither of us like the camera and we were just having a small backyard ceremony.

I had never wanted to get married prior to a couple of years ago, always seeing it such a heteronormative, narrow and outdated concept. But the Marriage Equality debate changed something. In the same way that dyke and queer has been reclaimed- I was reclaiming this space. Bugger it, we thought. Lets freaking celebrate this event and be visible for those who couldn’t be, for the other members of my LGBTIQ+ family who suffered so much at the hands of this debate and visible to represent the many rights that are still yet to have recognised for our community.

Little did I know that making the decision to have our nation’s broadcaster as a guest could have had such effect on a teenager that I didn’t even know.

When people see representations of themselves in the world, this can foster a great sense of affirmation of their identity. Visibility means that we are actually seen by society as opposed to being invisible. Visibility shifts culture by helping people to better able to understand who LGBTIQ+ people are.

Visibility tells people; “You exist, you are valid and you matter”.

So, in whatever small ways that are safe for us let’s be visible. You have no idea who may be watching and how much they may have needed to see you.

Bella Broadway

Do you need some support?

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, support and counselling are available from:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyondblue: and

QLife: and
QLife are a counselling and referral service for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people.

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