By Our Side: Playgroups with Pride’s Joanne Boyling

Joanne BoylingWhen I think of the term Straight Ally, the first person I think of is Joanne Boyling. When we first met I thought she was lesbian. She tells me her friends tease her about that. When I spoke to her for this article she suggested she needed a T-shirt with ‘I Like Cock’ printed on the front. I promised to lend her mine. Joanne is a powerhouse of fun, warmth and generosity. A family support officer with a background in community support and play groups, she saw a need and decided to find a way to fill that need. Playgroups with Pride is the result.

Can you remember the first time you became aware that not everyone around you was straight?

I didn’t know gay people even existed until some friends invited me to go see the Pride Parade with them in Perth. I was in my early 20’s and looking back I can’t believe my naivety. I went along and it was completely awesome. Now, of course, I get to march in the parade alongside these wonderful friends of mine who are mums and dads raising beautiful families here in WA.

How did you become an ally of the LGBT community?

I went to Bali on holiday with my family. My husbands’ cousin and his partner came with us. We were walking on the beach as the sun was going down. I turned around to look for where my daughter was and spotted her walking along happy and contented between these two gay men she absolutely adored. They were each holding my daughter’s hand. It was a beautiful moment that stayed with me for days. I remember thinking,  ‘Where are all the gay families? Where are the gay Dads and Mums? Who supports their families?’ I realized I didn’t know the answer. I decided to find out.

Was it hard to find out about that?  

It was really hard to find out information. There was nothing in government sources. There were websites about rainbow families but most of them were based in the US. Then I found a blog written by someone called Joey. She lived in Australia. She lived in Perth and was in the process of creating her own family with hey partner Jude. I contacted her and, after some guarded conversations, we concluded that one of the challenges for LGBT families was accessing welcoming and affirming playgroups. I could help with that. Joey connected me with other families.  I did the Opening Closets training run by Living Proud. They helped me organise a morning tea. We started our playgroup in May 2013 with five families. Today it has grown to around 23 families.  

Was there any opposition to the group?

We struggled initially. There were some people who were unsupportive and the families felt the negativity. Being visible has benefits but can also cause problems. The benefits are the connections and support that people can offer each other. That is so powerful. But when you become visible then sometimes the ignorance of others becomes more visible too.  We attended the Save Safe Schools rally with our Playgroups With Pride banner. A photo of us was posted on the United Patriots Front website. We got some abusive emails. There were negative comments on Facebook. After the rally we sat down and talked about it. We are very protective of our children and their families and we respect individuals’ choices to be as visible or as low key as they want to be.  This opposition just serves to highlight how vital it is to have Safe Schools and Playgroups with Pride. We are changing society and some people are going to be uncomfortable with that.

Where does Playgroups with Pride meet?

In 2014 we moved to the Derek Ernst Neighbourhood Centre in Morley. The playgroup meets once a week on Monday from 9.30-11.30am. We have occasional playgroups on weekends for families that can’t make it through the week. We have a website and a Facebook page.  We have a presence at Fairday and we march in the Pride parade.  

Perhaps the most important thing is that we are creating a network for people to be community. People want to connect with families that look like their own family. Share stories that are similar, find encouragement and share information. Seeing the happiness, the fun, the extended friendships and the community that is growing is incredibly rewarding.

Playgroups with Pride is totally self funded and relies on the goodwill of volunteers to keep things operating. If you would like to be an ally you can find out more at playgroupswithpridewa.com

Charlie Perth

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