Building on the success of Gympie’s first Pride Festival in June, 17 year old festival founder Emily Smith and her team are planning a larger scale Pride Festival with some country touches in 2024.
Emily says this year’s event was pulled together fast.
‘This year I went to two regional pride festivals in Victoria in the same month and was surprised to learn there was no Pride Festival in Gympie so I decided to start one,’ she said.
‘We were initially planning for 2024 when local creatives Anna Brennan, Cindy Vogels and others came on board in May and we decided to stage Pride in Gympie with two weeks’ notice.
‘We quickly pulled together a strong team. Pride would have been nothing without Cindy and Anna.’
Emily and the team resisted suggestions that the festival be hold at Rainbow Beach, feeling it was important that the Pride Festival had a visible presence in Gympie.
The 2023 festival, traditionally held in June, was a series of short events including a comedy show, flash mob, fashion events and a dance party. Events were well attended and audiences gave positive feedback.
A safe place
One attendee wrote on the Gympie Pride Festival Facebook page:
‘People who have felt somewhat ostracised in the wider community now know they’re not alone and they have a safe place to be themselves.’
Next year Emily and her team are considering a full day Pride Fair event including a possible Pride Dog and Owner show, live music and performances by queer artists.
‘We want it to reflect Gympie so a country show feel, maybe with camping and a super fun day for all ages’ said Emily.
Emily said she was aware of abuse of members of the LGBTIQ+ community in Gympie. She says the goal of Gympie’s first Pride Festival was to provide a safe space for the community to be themselves and say ‘We’re here’.
‘A lot of abuse happens in this town. Our team is aware of a young member of the LGBTQI+ community being chased down and bashed and one team member received verbal abuse about the Pride flyer. There’s violence happening in schools.’
A vulnerable community
A 2020 report by La Trobe University called ‘Private Lives’ found members of the LGBTIQ+ community report poorer mental health and higher rates of assault, abuse and discrimination than the general community.
Studies by Beyond Blue and other organisations found young same sex attracted and gender diverse Australians report suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts at much higher rates than the average.
The same studies found twice the number of LGBTIQ+ people felt accepted at events such as Pride Festivals then those who felt accepted in mainstream venues and events.
Emily says unfortunately acceptance and inclusion of the queer community isn’t always on offer in Gympie.
‘Gympie can have a reputation of being welcoming and accepting but sometimes it seems like a bit of a façade of inclusion because there is an undercurrent of violence here,’ she said.
The Pineapple asked the Queensland Police Service media unit if police were aware of homophobic crimes being committed in Gympie. The response was that police keep records of crimes such as assault or vandalism but don’t record if sexual orientation is a factor.
On a positive note, Emily said The Queensland Police Service in Gympie and Headspace were very willing to be involved in Pride which the team appreciated.
An organiser from her early years
Emily says she didn’t plan to be a leader or an advocate but believes her supportive home environment played a role in her having the confidence to take the first step in starting Gympie’s first Pride Festival.
‘I was home-schooled and my mother is a business coach so I’ve always been aware of the structure of business and events.
‘I was always into organising things and I ran a children’s market when I was a kid.’
Emily recently completed a Cert 3 in Early Learning and is working full time as an educator, which she loves.
‘It’s great working with children and I’m enjoying the job. There’s a wide world out there though and I will do some travelling down the track.
‘The plan is to establish the Pride Festival as a permanent event on the Gympie calendar and then hand it over to the future generations.’
Gympie Pride Festival 2023 was supported by