ROWENA ALLEN

VIC­TO­RIA IS THE ONLY STATE OF AUS­TRALIA WITH A COM­MIS­SIONER FOR GEN­DER AND SEX­U­AL­ITY, AND ROWENA ALLEN IS IT! SHE TELLS MATT MY­ERS ABOUT THE JOB’S IN­SPI­RA­TIONAL MO­MENTS, THOSE KINKY BOOTS, AND THE EL­DER AN­GELS.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

DNA: How do you feel about be­ing in this new and de­mand­ing role?

Rowena Allen: It’s an hon­our and priv­i­lege to be the first Com­mis­sioner For Gen­der And Sex­u­al­ity. It’s about ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness, and I’m given free range to work right across our com­mu­nity and the broader com­mu­nity.

What are the big­gest chal­lenges you’ve faced? The trauma that af­fected our com­mu­nity af­ter the Or­lando shoot­ing and the plebiscite. The plebiscite is huge. We worked with the com­mu­nity to fight against it. There’s also the day-to-day dis­crim­i­na­tion that peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence. I have to pick and choose be­cause I can’t do it all. That’s been my big­gest chal­lenge: pick­ing just ten projects, not 20. The Vic­to­rian govern­ment’s ex­punge­ment of crim­i­nal records for past LGBTI “crim­i­nals” and the apol­ogy in par­lia­ment must’ve been a spe­cial oc­ca­sion?

That was where, I think, par­lia­ment was at its best, and the full par­lia­ment, too. Any mem­bers of govern­ment who didn’t agree with it, didn’t turn up. The govern­ment and the op­po­si­tion were united in their apol­ogy. The sad­dest thing was when one of the gen­tle­man told me it was a beau­ti­ful day but he was sorry his mother wasn’t there to see it. She had suf­fered the shame, too. You headed up the Fed­er­a­tion Square vigil for the Or­lando tragedy. What’s your strong­est mem­ory of that night?

Three thou­sand peo­ple singing Some­where Over The Rain­bow. It was a very pow­er­ful mo­ment. The speeches were so on the mark, and the com­mu­nity sup­port was phe­nom­e­nal.

On both oc­ca­sions the rain­bow flag flew over Par­lia­ment House; quite a mile­stone.

They’re great mo­ments. The Min­is­ter For Equal­ity, Martin Fo­ley, made that hap­pen. It’s won­der­ful to be part of a govern­ment that is so pro­gres­sive. We’ve had the Premier and state lead­ers say­ing, “equal­ity is not ne­go­tiable” and

Ev­ery kid who went to that for­mal knew the risk of a protest. They re­alised the El­der An­gles were there to pro­tect them.

re­ally revving up the fed­eral govern­ment to get on with mar­riage equal­ity.

Would you agree that trans peo­ple are still marginalised, even within the LGBTI com­mu­nity?

I spend more time, unashamedly, with the BT and I sec­tion than I do with the L and G be­cause they are fur­ther be­hind. We’re not out of the woods with the L and G, though.

You won Hero Of The Year at Aus­tralia’s first LGBTI Awards ear­lier this year. How did that make you feel?

Shocked, to be hon­est. To my part­ner’s hor­ror, I didn’t have a speech ready. Luck­ily, I re­mem­bered to thank ev­ery­one I needed to and ac­knowl­edged her sup­port as well.

What is your re­la­tion­ship like with the politi­cians and cabi­net min­is­ters?

No­body crosses the road when they see me com­ing – not from any side of govern­ment. Within the cabi­net there’s so much sup­port for LGBTI is­sues, so I show them how they might be able to im­prove some­thing in their port­fo­lio and they pretty much get on and do it.

What’s one of the more up­lift­ing sto­ries you’ve wit­nessed in the job?

Dur­ing one of our ru­ral road­shows, we went to Swan Hill to do a ses­sion for the De­part­ment Of Hu­man Ser­vices, and there were two women who sat a desk apart and didn’t know they both had gay sons, and were both strug­gling with it. Through that en­gage­ment, they were able to tell each other their sto­ries. One of the best was when hun­dreds of Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lander peo­ple gave me a stand­ing ova­tion at the Brother Boy, Sis­ter Girl week­end. They had never had the op­por­tu­nity to come to­gether from across Aus­tralia and do such heal­ing. That was a ca­reer high­light. There are also won­der­ful sto­ries within the dis­abil­ity space, too. There’s some kind of “mo­ment” ev­ery week when I’m able to help an in­di­vid­ual. When some­one comes back and says, “You made that phone call and this hap­pened,” or “I got ac­cess to that hos­pi­tal” or what­ever it was, that’s the power of the po­si­tion. You can make things hap­pen for peo­ple.

There must be some funny mo­ments, too? Try­ing to walk in the Kinky Boots! Jeff Ken­nett [for­mer Vic­to­rian Premier] could walk in them bet­ter than me!

Aus­tralia is one of the few coun­tries to in­clude In­ter­sex when re­fer­ring to the LGBTI com­mu­nity. For those who are not sure, how do you de­fine the I?

It’s peo­ple who are born with a dif­fer­ent chro­mo­some make-up, that makes them both male and fe­male. It’s a very di­verse com­mu­nity, where some peo­ple don’t even iden­tify as in­ter­sex. It’s a very small group but with over 40-plus vari­a­tions as well.

The Stop Safe Schools Coali­tion at­tempted to pre­vent Mi­nus 18’s same-sex high school for­mal but it back­fired. What hap­pened?

A group were protest­ing against Safe Schools, and invit­ing peo­ple to protest out­side the same-sex for­mal. Dan Flynn [Aus­tralian Chris­tian Lobby Di­rec­tor] said he didn’t have any con­trol over the protest, so we didn’t know if there would be a protest or not. There ended up not be­ing one, which was fan­tas­tic, but I hadn’t trusted it, and there were 560 kids booked for the for­mal. This group, op­posed to Safe Schools, set up a web­site to get peo­ple to buy up the tick­ets so the kids couldn’t go. But an­other web­site was set up to buy the tick­ets so the kids could go to the for­mal for free, and that one raised $40,000 dol­lars. Ev­ery kid went to the for­mal for free, with money left over! The crowd­fund­ing was fan­tas­tic and the for­mal was very well catered. Those kids were sug­ared off their brains!

And who are the An­gel El­ders in that story?

I asked 45 LGBTI el­ders and al­lies to make an­gel out­fits. These started af­ter Matthew Shep­pard was killed and the West­boro Bap­tist church protested his fu­neral. The lo­cal com­mu­nity made mas­sive an­gel out­fits so that when they raised their winged-arms they’d block out the pro­test­ers. We made a guard of hon­our for the young peo­ple. They thought we were dags but they want us back next year be­cause ev­ery kid who went to that for­mal knew the risk of a protest. They re­alised the an­gles were there to pro­tect them. It’s very sym­bolic that the LGBTI el­ders and com­mu­nity came and be with them in sol­i­dar­ity.

Where do you think the LGBTI com­mu­nity will be 20 years from now?

In a beau­ti­ful Pride Cen­tre in Vic­to­ria, with a lot more sup­port for peer and ed­u­cated pro­grams! I don’t think we even know what the is­sues will be in the fu­ture.

Since tak­ing on this job, you must’ve met a di­verse range of peo­ple. Who stands out? Michael Kirby [for­mer High Court judge] and Cyndi Lau­per – I’m a big fan. As well as the fa­mous folk, there’s the grass­roots peo­ple such as the el­ders and in­ter­na­tional guests. Lis­ten­ing to their sto­ries has been in­spi­ra­tional.

Do you hang out with other state com­mis­sion­ers?

Yes, I do. In fact, I think my su­per­power is get­ting them to do my work for me! I had about five of them march with me at Pride. the Com­mis­sioner For Se­niors, the Com­mis­sioner For Hu­man Rights – LGBTI peo­ple are in all those port­fo­lios. Many of them call me the Com­mis­sioner For Uni­corns And Rain­bows!

Who have been your great­est in­flu­ences and men­tors?

My mother. She taught me to speak pub­licly and to stand up for my­self. Joan Kirner [for­mer Vic­to­rian Premier] was a men­tor. Ellen, not just as a co­me­dian but as a role model. There are many pow­er­ful women and men who’ve in­flu­enced my life.

Do you have a motto or favourite quote? Equal­ity is not ne­go­tiable.

“Three thou­sand peo­ple singing Some­where Over The Rain­bow at the Or­lando vigil was a pow­er­ful mo­ment.”

MORE: Fol­low Rowena Al­lan on Twit­ter @rowe­na_allen

THE COM­MIS­SIONER FOR UNI­CORNS AND RAIN­BOWS… AT PRIDE WITH DOLLY DI­A­MOND; IN AN­GEL WINGS; AND WIN­NING THE LGBTI HERO AWARD.

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