Groovin the Moo

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April 17

Thorne Harbour Country and Bendigo’s First LGBTQI+ Safe Space

At this year’s Bendigo instalment of Groovin the Moo, Thorne Harbour Country will be hosting a pool party full of drag-queen lifeguards and retro pool toys! This area will be an LGBTQI+ safe space, the first of its kind for the Victorian leg of the festival.

I sat down with Damien Stevens-Todd who is Thorne Harbour Country Program Coordinator to find out more about the safe space and the organisation’s ethos.

Let’s start by introducing yourself.

G’day, my name is Damien Stevens-Todd. I work here at Thorne Harbour Country and I’m the Program Coordinator for the Bendigo office.

So, what is Thorne Harbour Country? 

Thorne Harbour Country is the regional chapter of Thorne Harbour Health, formerly Victorian Aids Council, based in Melbourne. We have been around for 30 years and here in Bendigo, we provide counselling and rapid HIV testing and a whole host of programs and services for LGBTQI+ people and their communities.

What are some of the important services that you offer that you’d like to talk about?

We have a work plan with the Department of Health and Human Services and we specifically look at blood borne viruses and STI prevention, management and support. I think the services I mentioned earlier are the most important ones. There are many LGBTQI+ people living in rural areas who are still significantly impacted by the marriage equality debate and the trauma that it caused them, so people are still requiring counselling in that area. But generally, living in a regional area means you are more likely to experience homophobia, transphobia and biphobia and so providing inclusive counselling services for our community is important. Because of our link to our work plan with the Department, keeping our community well when it comes to sexual health is important. We have good partnerships with Bendigo Community Health Services and headspace and we certainly make our own referrals to these organisations.

We also run a rapid HIV testing program every fortnight called PRONTO. We have funding at the moment from the Community Ice Action Grants and so, we’re running a festival in April that is alcohol and other drug free which is something we think is important because the rates of alcohol and drug abuse is higher in the LGBTQI+ community.

We also have a local drug action team that is currently putting together some digital resources as part of a campaign called “I am not buying it” and the focus of that campaign is that when LGBTQI+ people are coming out or making social connections, they feel that the only place that they can do that is at a pub or an environment where drinking or drug-taking happens. This campaign uses digital storytelling to make a point that people can thrive and be social without the use of alcohol and drugs.

It’s tricky to succinctly talk about all of the programs and services that we offer but I guess our priority is the counselling and sexual health areas.

How would you describe the current environment for an LGBTQI+ living in a regional area?

I would say LGBTQI+ have said that every so often, you are still reminded when living in a rural and regional area that it is more heterosexist than our city counterparts. Some people describe it as ‘the death of a thousand cuts’. So on Monday, you might hear at the supermarket, “Oh, don’t go near him. He’s gay.” And then on Wednesday, you might be out getting new glasses and you might hear a mum go, “Oh those girls are lesbians.” You just get cut every day and those cuts add up. So the harms and the trauma that LGBTQI+ people living in regional areas experience accumulate quicker than those living in Melbourne. Additionally, people in Melbourne have a greater access to support services which allow them to develop greater levels of resilience. So yes, there’s more occurrences of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in regional areas and less opportunity for them to be healed. That’s why Thorne Harbour Country is here and why we are important.

So what is Thorne Harbour Country’s involvement in Groovin the Moo?

Thorne Harbour Country is supporting Groovin the Moo to host an inclusive LGBTQI+ friendly space. When LGBTQI+ people socialise in places where people drink, they can experience high levels of homophobic behaviour. At a festival like Groovin the Moo which is meant to be accessible for all people, all ages, all genders; we know that there needs to be a specific space at this event, as modelled by other Groovin the Moo shows across the country, that is supportive of a safer more inclusive space, especially for young people. It also allows LGBTQI+ people to immerse themselves in a bit of queer culture. Through the provision of this space, a drag queen or king, a local performer can interact with attendees and provide queer-friendly entertainment. It will allow people to feel safer as well as be on the receiving end of resources and health messages tailored specifically to LGBTQI+ people.

If a LGBTQI+ person wants to attend a LGBTQI+ event in Bendigo, where do they go?

Groovin the Moo is coming up, of course! In the months that lead up to it though, whether it’s the Thorne Harbour website or the Bendigo Pride Festival website, there are at least 15 to 20 events before Groovin the Moo that are LGBTQI+ specific. We’ve just had Trans Day of Visibility and Bendigo Pride Festival spans all of April. It’s the first ever Bendigo Pride Festival which is really amazing. There’s a whole range of events to get involved in whether it be queer mic nights, women’s sexual health forums, the Queer Film Festival, a breakfast event, a family fun day… the list just goes on! (See links below for more details.)

A lot of people from out of town come to Bendigo for Groovin the Moo, what are some places that they can check out?

If it’s LGBTQI+ people reading this article, then there are many inclusive venues around town. A lot of the events for Bendigo Pride Festival are actually being hosted in these venues. You’ve got parks, restaurants and motels. Here’s a list!

  • The Bridge Hotel Bendigo
  • Dudley House Bendigo
  • The Engine Room Bendigo
  • Percy and Percy Café
  • Bendigo Library/Park
  • La Trobe Art Institute
  • GPO Bendigo
  • The Shamrock Hotel

How can people get involved with Thorne Harbour Country?

We always love to hear from more volunteers, not only to assist with the organisation more broadly but with Groovin the Moo on the 4th of May. We probably would like up to 10 people to help staff the LGBTQI+ friendly space. We have a whole range of ways they can volunteer for Throne Harbour Country. (Email is below to get in touch with the organisation!)

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

Only that Groovin the Moo is one day and there is, like I said earlier, at least 15 to 20 events that are inclusive and Bendigo is a great place. So instead of coming to Bendigo for one day in May, come to Bendigo for one month to get around the Bendigo Pride Festival!

Useful links for Bendigo Pride Festival:

https://thorneharbour.org/lgbti-health/thcountry/

https://www.bendigopridefestival.com.au

 

Contact details to get involved!

thcountry@thorneharbour.org

03 4400 9000

 

See you at Bendigo’s first ever all-inclusive safe space!

Written by Phillip Nguyen (@phirrup_)


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