When Abby Iverson left Albury, in southern New South Wales, six years ago, family and friends were under the impression she was “straight as could be” after a series of boyfriends in high school. She’s lived in Melbourne since then and says her mum still doesn’t talk about her girlfriend of three years.
“Melbourne gave me a freedom-mindset and it was little things, like I started thinking very differently and not necessarily out loud to begin with,” she says.
Abby says she thinks if she stayed in Albury, she would’ve married a man and been perfectly happy until she had a mid-life crisis and ran away with a woman.
Similarly, Rebecca Walton says her mum reacted warily. Rebecca grew up on the NSW central coast and came out when she was 20 while living in England. “It took mum quite a while to come around and this was made harder by the fact that I was living overseas at the time.”
She says her mum took steps to understand her but pushed her away. It was “out of sight, out of mind,” Rebecca says.
LBGTI+ men and women around Australia know the issue is more nuanced than it may initially seem. Their communities and families may be more accepting now than in the past, but the stereotypes remain.
Alessia Alfree has been with her girlfriend, Kyra. for two years. They met after she moved from Darwin to Melbourne. “I think if it did happen in Darwin it would have been a one-time thing because I would have been a part of that closed-mindedness. I would have brushed it off and told myself I like guys because that’s the norm in Darwin.”
While her family is supportive, she says one of the most hurtful things was when her mum asked if she was just with Kyra because it was “trendy”. “No way would I have come out in Darwin. I think if it happened in Darwin, I would have been way more nervous.”
Darwin has had a Pride Parade for 34 years and continues the tradition, giving LBGTI+ community members a place to feel safe and accepted.
“In 1985, a group of passionate Darwinites came together to create the very first Darwin Pride Festival – promoting diversity, equality and celebrating LGBTIQ communities,” says promotional material for last year’s event. “These brave individuals shine the spotlight on issues that needed to change and celebrated what already made us shine.”
Alessia attributes here caution on visits there to a few negative experiences in the Northern Territory capital. “I wouldn’t hold my girlfriend’s hand, but I can’t tell if that’s because of fear or just not wanting to draw attention to myself.”
Maddie Fuller grew up in the NSW regional city of Wagga Wagga and says she never really had to formally come out. She says she was accepted easily because she fit the community’s stereotypical image of a lesbian. “I think everyone just kind of assumed it because I played cricket and other boy sports. There was just that view that if you played cricket then you were a lesbian, so I guess I just was a part of their cliché.”
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show that most male same-sex couples live in metropolitan areas around Sydney in what is commonly referred to as the “rainbow ribbon”. Female same-sex couples tend to spread more, perhaps as they more commonly tend to move to more family-accommodating areas.
The ABS research showed that while metropolitan areas had clearly higher proportions of ‘yes’ voters in the 2017 same-sex plebiscite, this vote was upheld in a majority of rural areas.
LBGTI+ women interviewed say they believe rural areas are changing and becoming more accepting and changes in attitudes have enabled the LBGTIQ+ men and women to feel more included.
“Now in my twenties, I feel like every second person I meet is gay or bi- or trans,” Maddie says. “Wagga had its very first Mardi Gras with thousands of people on the streets, it was incredible the support they got.”
Albury had its first Pride Parade in 2017. “Albury showed they cared about LBGT+ people in a way that they could share with the whole community. Even though I don’t live there it makes me feel more accepted knowing it’s becoming normalised and even welcomed,” Abby says.
Young, gay communities are beginning to find their place. Abby tells us why she thinks sexually-curious peoples might leave their hometown if not for fear of unacceptance. “I think sometimes it’s not even that people feel pushed out of their rural towns but just knowing metro areas and knowing their friends are having such a great and inclusive time”.
She reflects on what’s missing in areas that aren’t considered metropolitan. “[There’s no] gay nights like Melbourne does; it helps you to know there is an open community. It’s something I feel Albury does lack; easy access to other people who are in the community. And you know it’s not to meet the love of your life but just to know there are others like you.”