Shelley Argent, longtime National Spokesperson for PFLAG+, Australia’s rainbow mum, and one of the country’s most effective LGBTIQ+ activists, has been diagnosed with acute leukemia.
Shelley shared the news with friends last night.
“Age and other factors rule out effective treatment. Realistically, I may or may not be here at Christmas. Of course, I wish things were different. I may get lucky, but not sure about that at all.
“Please know, I love you.”
As documented in her book, Just a Mum, Shelley Argent’s long battle for LGBTIQ+ rights began when her son James came out. The future that faced her son distressed a woman who, to her knowledge, never before met an LGBTIQ+ person. Shelley quickly became fearful when she realised her gay son would enjoy far lesser rights than her straight boy. Loving them equally, she decided that she would do what she could to ensure the law also treated them equally.
Shelley said this morning, “I had two main goals. That, just like his brother, James should have the right to marry and to have children. Over the last two decades, the LGBTIQ+ communities and their allies achieved both those goals. I’m proud to have played a part. I can’t begin to explain the love and joy I feel when I think of the wonderful people I met along that journey and who welcomed me into their community.”
Just a Mum – a rainbow mum
Shelley Argent grew up in a dysfunctional family marred by manipulation and control caused by mental illness and poverty.
“Some positives came out of the difficulties of my childhood. I knew that I needed to create a different family life. When my turn came, I wanted a family filled with laughter, love, and the freedom for my children to excel in life, which indeed happened.
“Don, my husband, is the love of my life, and my greatest supporter. And my two boys turned out to be the absolute joys of my life. Now I feel more like their friend than their mum and I enjoy every minute of time I get to spend with them.”
James currently works as a paramedic in London. Glenn lives in Singapore. One of the greatest disappointments of Shelley’s life is that the pandemic prevented her from attending his wedding last year. Both boys are currently making arrangments to return home.
Shelley said her participation in PFLAG+ gave her some of her most rewarding life experiences.
“From counselling bewildered parents whose children just came out to partnering with other parents who defied parliamentarians to refuse representation to our children. Of course, some of those politicians tried to intimidate us with their power and position. But I learned from my childhood to never be afraid of anyone and never give up. That persistence paid off. They didn’t manage to scare or even intimidate me, and they always knew what I thought before I left their offices.
“We knocked on their doors until they answered. We presented facts to those who would listen and stared down those who thought they could frighten us. The idiots, we simply laughed at.”
Jane Hopkins, who succeeded Shelley as National Spokesperson for PFLAG+, told QNews the organisation sent rainbow love to Australia’s rainbow mum.
“I’m shocked to hear the latest news as Shelley has always presented as a dynamic trail-blazer with tireless energy.
“In retirement, she continues to drive projects that will improve the lives of all our LGBTIQ+ children.
“On behalf of PFLAG+ Brisbane, we send her loads of healing energy and rainbow love.”
Although Shelley Argent stepped down earlier this year as National Spokesperson for PFLAG+ Australia, her work continues. QNews learned some time ago of her assistance to members of the LGBTIQ+ communities in Africa. However, Shelley chose not to publicise that work.
“Publicity can be a valuable tool. Back when I began in advocacy, even families who continued to love and support their LGBTIQ+ children sometimes felt shame about those kids. We saw the value in showing them an alternative. I was proud of James and happy for the entire world to know. Soon, I was joined by other mums, dads, grandparents and siblings who all felt the same.
“But some work is best done quietly. Members of the LGBTIQ+ communities in some countries still face a daily battle for their very existence.”
In Kenya, Shelley’s efforts saw a young gay boy who suffered relentlessly bullying, and physical attacks at school moved to a private school. He can now focus on his education in a supportive environment without fearing for his life. Stephen has a single mother with HIV and Shelley assists the family both with educational costs and to establish a small business.
Shelley also financially and emotionally assists a young Maasai woman named Ann who she met on a trip to Africa. Seeing Shelley as her mum, Ann regularly looks to her for guidance. As yet, Shelley feels unable to break the bad news to the young woman.
“Obviously, we want everyone to know of the challenges community members in Africa face. However, any publicity about these individuals would undo the advances in their personal lives. So, I just work quietly to do what I can.”
In Uganda, LGBTIQ+ people struggle to find employment, are ostracised by their families and remain under constant threat of violence, often government-sponsored. Shelley Argent sponsors a service in central, eastern and rural Uganda that provides sometimes life-saving support to members of the LGBTIQ+ communities.
QNews spoke to Mutebi Phillip, CEO, Human Rights and Economic Empowerment Development (HUREED), Lugazi.
“The members of HUREED are grief-stricken to learn that our patron from Australia is so ill. Mrs Shelley’s respectful generosity, always directed to the most-needy in a community of needy people, has been uplifting and inspiring for our staff and volunteers. Urgent food for the hungry, emergency rescue and medical treatment for trans & gay people who have been attacked and violated by mobs.
“We all pray daily for her comfort and for her family, and we thank God who brought her to us.”
Queensland activist Bill Rutkin, another supporter of HUREED, told QNews of an incident when a shopkeeper attacked a community member with a machete.
“Typically, the police did not arrest the perpetrator. Instead, they locked up the critically injured victim without providing medical attention. Mutebi Phillip bravely marched into that police station and achieved the release of the injured man. Shelley then ensured he received the medical treatment he required.”
Both Shelley and Bill vouched for HUREED as a charity where every dollar donated will make a real difference to the lives of some of the most disadvantaged LGBTIQ+ people on this planet.
Shelley said, “Just a few dollars can make such a difference.”
LGBTIQ+ activist Rodney Croome, described by Shelley as her Canberra husband, paid tribute to her tenacity.
“I am devastated by the news about Shelley’s health, and I’m still in shock. Shelley and I have worked together on LGBTIQ+ equality for fifteen years. She has brought laughter to my day and put steel in my spine. I can’t imagine a world without her.
“I desperately hope the treatments give Shelley more time with us. She is the most optimistic and determined person I know. If anyone can beat this, Shelley can.
“I know lots of LGBTIQ+ Australians and our families will be sad and concerned when they hear the news about Shelley’s illness. My message to them is that the best way for us to show our support for Shelley is to double our efforts for a more just and equal world.”
Shelley Argent, party animal
Despite her consuming passion for equality and focus on advancing legal rights, Shelley Argent’s many friends attest she’s no boring policy wonk. She paints on rainbow glitter to join a party at the drop of a boa.
“I’m always ready to party. No one needs a reason. Just whack on the glitter and get to it.
“With a resilience born of generations of prejudice and discrimination, the LGBTIQ+ communities know how to party. Their tenacity in the face of inequality taught them to make the most of life, and they know how to have fun. It’s a lesson I took to very easily. Fight for your rights and take time to dance, to laugh and to live.”
Shelley’s response to acute leukemia diagnosis – no bullshit!
Shelley told QNews this morning she will take advantage of the medical treatment available while making the most of her time.
“No doom and gloom. That’s bullshit. I made the most of my life so far. I’m not going to stop now. While I have no delusions about my diagnosis, I refuse to waste time being miserable.
“I travelled the world and visited everywhere I wanted to go. My adult life gifted me the love of an amazing family. I look at Don, James and Glenn and I’m filled with adoration and pride. Along with many other passionate advocates, I helped achieve the goals and rights I wanted for my son and his community. Plus — and it’s a big plus — I can’t begin to tell you of the love and joy my participation in the LGBTIQ+ communities brought to my life.
“It’s been a great life. I don’t want to be greedy but some more time would be nice, thank you very much.”
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