Safe space for ‘coming out’
WHEN Madeleine Gallagher moved back to Grafton after a 20-year stint in Sydney, she discovered it wasn't easy to be "out and proud" in the Clarence Valley.
Now she is on a mission to increase acceptance and awareness of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex communities in the area.
Born and bred in Grafton, Ms Gallagher left to attend a Sydney boarding school at the age of 15.
She came out as a lesbian at the end of Year 12 and spent the next 18 years living in Sydney.
When she moved back to the Valley in 2011, Ms Gallagher said it felt like she was coming out all over again.
"One of the things I found frustrating here was an element of heterosexism," she said.
"People ask if you've got a husband, like there's no possibility that you aren't heterosexual, then you think, 'Do I explain my situation or do I just leave it?'
"I've never had to think about these things in Sydney so I was a bit shocked about that. When I started getting involved in the community again it really highlighted how different it is here."
As she settled in, Ms Gallagher began searching for LGBTI community services, but was shocked at the lack of resources.
It spurred her to get involved with ACON's Safe Place Program, a free nationwide program that aims to encourage services, businesses and organisations to welcome and engage with LGBTI communities.
In conjunction with the Clarence River Women's Refuge and Outreach Services and Grafton TAFE, Ms Gallagher set the challenge to get local organisations and services involved.
A number of businesses have signed up and the launch of the local program will be celebrated at a barbecue on May 17.
Having a visible LGBTI community could make the world of difference to young people coming to terms with their sexuality, Ms Gallagher said.
"When you're coming out it's just such a difficult time anyway, so having a visible community really assists with that process," she said.
"Some people fear being outed."
Ms Gallagher said she wanted people to know "yes, we are here and we contribute to the community".
"This is about the whole community standing up and saying, 'We support you and we're inclusive and welcoming, and it doesn't matter who you are or who you love,' " she said.
- To become a safe place, fill out a two-page application.
- Once approved, the business receives a sticker for its front window or door, plus a Safe Place Charter.
- Participation is free and is a handy tool for members of the LGBTI community searching for services or organisations they know will be inclusive or accepting.
- Visit http://www.acon.org.au/ safeplace.