Garry Wakefield grew up in Ulverstone, a town in North West Tasmania that was once known as “the most homophobic town in Australia”.
In the late 1990s, Ulverstone was once the site of angry rallies and protests against the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
For LGBTQIA+ advocate Garry Wakefield, the public furore coincided with his own coming out.
“I grew up in Ulverstone, and the anti-gay rallies and I was about 14, 15 [years old] and I was just figuring out that I was gay while there was all this hatred about the gay community in my home town,” he said.
“It was awful, there was a lot of hate and misinformation and a lot of fear for the LGBTQIA+ community.
“It was a tough place to be at that age, when you’re just trying to find your place in the world.”
In an effort to change the town’s history, in 2019 Garry decided to start elevating queer voices in his community.
“It was when the Religious Discrimination Bill started being mentioned,” he said.
“I wanted to find a way to share real stories of the LGBTQIA+ experience.
“You know, the “gay agenda” is just to live in peace. It’s not anything fancy or special or different.”
To share the stories of queer Tasmanians, Garry launched a podcast called Queer Life Stories and through his conversations kept hearing about the lack of visibility in Tasmania’s North West.
“It was a common thread through all the conversations; that we need something here. We need some visibility, we need to change this, we need a safe space to meet and talk.”
North West Pride hits the road
North West Pride began with BBQ in a local park, and has grown from strength to strength since.
The group organises events from drag bingo and coffee catch ups to queer movie nights.
Not content with staying contained to the larger towns, North West Pride has begun organising events in more rural areas on Tasmania’s West Coast.
Garry said that heading to isolated communities and hosting Pride In The Park events has been affirming for the whole organisation.
“You know we’re heading to places like Queenstown and Smithton that are really small towns,” he said.
“And we put up the rainbow flags and in those moments you do worry that you’ll get some pushback, but the reception that we’ve had has always been positive.”
For Garry, launching North West Pride has been an empowering experience as he works to make his hometown safer for the queer community.
“It’s been really moving to see the progress we’ve made. 25 years ago you couldn’t be visibility gay,” he said.
“I personally feel so much safer being on the North West Coast than I did even three, four years ago.”
After only a few years, he has begun to see his community healing from its dark history.
“We did Pride in the Park and we had a drag queen come and do story time,” he said.
“And we had kids and parents sitting around and listening to a drag queen read children’ books.
“I almost cried, it was just such a sign of progress.”
North West Pride is currently fundraising to open a Pride Centre in Ulverstone. The centre will become a permanent safe space for the region’s queer community.
Donations are welcomed.
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