Shelley Argent stepped down this month as PFLAG+ National Spokesperson. In that position and others, she advocated tirelessly for LGBTIQ+ rights over more than two decades.
Shelley Argent, however, told QNews she will continue to advocate behind the scenes.
“I’m a mother. Mums don’t retire. It’s a job for life. As the mum of an LGBTIQ+ child, I’m in this for as long as I have breath in my body.”
After growing up in a dysfunctional family, Shelley Argent dreamed of creating a loving family of her own. As an adult, she achieved that with her husband Don and two sons. But in 1995, one of their two sons came out to his family as gay.
Wanting the best for her children, Shelley set to work educating herself about LGBTIQ+ issues. Shocked by the discrimination she learned her gay son could expect in life, the proud mum decided to do something about it. The disparity between how the law and society would engage her straight son compared to how it would treat James infuriated her.
James Argent told QNews having Shelley for a mum made him the luckiest gay in Australia.
She is out there. Mum wears rainbow badges like bull’s horns and will not allow anyone to take down me or my community.
She believes that every LGBT+ person deserves loving. She demands that society allow us that love.
I’m so proud she took on the church and politicians (usually from the Liberal party).
She also made sure I/we knew we can be proud people who deserve full participation in society and family life.
Shelley’s other son Glenn told QNews of his pride in his mother’s efforts.
She achieved more than I could ever have imagined.
I’m so proud of the difference she made.
Long-time LGBTIQ+ activist Rodney Croome worked with Shelley on many campaigns over the past two decades.
“She was just a mum who wanted both her sons – one gay and one straight – to be treated equally by the law and society…
“She often commented on how her son, James, had to work twice as hard to be considered half as a good, just because he was gay.”
Shelley began by volunteering at the Queensland AIDS Council.
“They had no real use for me initially. I had no special skills. I was always told I was useless during my childhood and would never amount to anything, so I never thought I had much to contribute.
“But I knew I was persistent, and life taught me never to give up. My two sons deserved the same opportunities in life. I was going to do whatever it took to see that happen.
“Volunteering at QuAC allowed me to learn about the communities James was part of. I learned what a resilient and determined group he belonged to.
“The accomplishments of QuAC in the face of relentless discrimination and scant resources are a testament to the great strengths of the LGBTIQ+ communities.
“In 1998, when I began as a volunteer, over 1000 HIV/AIDS cases were diagnosed annually in Queensland.
“By 2020, that was down to approximately 150. Even better, AIDS is no longer a death sentence thanks to Pep, Prep and excellent safe sex education.”
Bill Rutkin, early QuAC president, attributed Shelley’s success to her big heart and tenacity.
Shelley has a heart as big as Australia and we’ve all benefitted from her passion and determination.
She never gives up and never stops pushing. Her determination to make a better world for her son resulted in a better world for all of us.
It didn’t take long before Shelley immersed herself in the campaign for equal rights. She has now led PFLAG+ in Queensland for almost 22 years. For the past 13 of those years, she was also National Spokesperson for PFLAG+.
During those years, the little girl from Kedron, always told as a child she’d never amount to anything, learned to negotiate the corridors of power.
Refusing to take no for an answer, Shelley repeatedly visited Canberra. She fronted some of Australia’s most notorious parliamentary homophobes. Shelley demanded to know why Australian laws and society offered one of her sons so much more opportunity than the other.
An early advocate for marriage equality, Shelley hosted the first Queensland meeting for Australian Marriage Equality over her kitchen table in the early 2000s.
“I have done more and accomplished more than I could have imagined. I feel I have been part of the many changes and been successful, along with others, while advocating for LGBTIQ+ rights.
“Over the years, I made some great friends in the LGBTIQ+ community, met many interesting people and participated in some great events, including leading Mardi Gras in 2011.”
Rebecca Reynolds, CEO of the Queensland Council for LGBTI Health – QC, described Shelley’s legacy as legendary.
Shelley’s energy and commitment to her work is the stuff of legend.
There are few in our communities who don’t know of Shelley, or who won’t benefit from the legacy of her work.
No matter how her contributions were made, there are few organisations here in Queensland that aren’t better off for having had her passion and focus over the past 20 odd years.
From one of the organisations where Shelley volunteered, we wish her all the best in the world as she heads off into whatever is next.
Retiring as PFLAG+ National Spokesperson
Shelley said the time was right to hand over the reins, confident that new PFLAG+ National Spokesperson Jane Hopkins will fly the flag into the future.
“Jane is already fantastic. She is keen and has fresh ideas on how to improve PFLAG+. Jane’s enthusiasm, commitment and dedication to see a better world for her son and everyone else in this community is her best asset. It’s something we should all appreciate.”
Jane Hopkins said she was honoured to take over from Shelley.
Shelley’s amazing legacy presents us with an immense challenge. How do we ensure we not only sustain but progress her achievements and continue the fight for equality?
Luckily Shelley has left us well equipped to continue the fight into the future. She will also continue as a member of PFLAG+, so we know she’s always there with advice and support.
Indeed, while stepping back as National Spokesperson, Shelley Argent has not stopped fighting for equality.
On the day QNews spoke to her about her retirement, she was off to court to advocate for a young trans person’s right to have input into decisions on his schooling.
“None of us are equal until we’re all equal. We should never give up the fight. I’m so sick of people acting like equal rights are special treatment. Until LGBTIQ+ people, First Nations peoples and other minorities enjoy the same privileges as everyone else, we are all diminished.”
Recent events have cast doubt over the value of awards meted out to Australians for community service. Shelley Argent herself received an OAM in 2006 and then became Senior Queenslander of the Year in 2011. Shelley described the awards as great door openers. She took advantage of the increased access to pollies the awards afforded. However, she is most proud of leading the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade in 2011.
Shelley Argent, however, earned much more than awards. She has earned the respect, admiration and the LGBTIQ+ communities’ LOVE for her untiring dedication to our causes.
She calls herself Just a Mum, but we prefer Shelley the Magnificent.
Long time partner in countless rights campaigns, Rodney Croome, said it was difficult to summarise Shelley’s many achievements.
Shelley’s contribution to the well-being and equality of LGBTIQ Australians and our families is on such a grand scale it can’t easily be described in a few words.
Lives have been saved, families have stayed together, equality laws have been enacted and health and educational programs have been funded, all because of Shelley’s uniquely effective abilities as an advocate and lobbyist, and because of her immense generosity.
In the last twenty years, no other Australian has given more time, energy, heart, soul, passion and personal resources to ensure LGBTIQ people are treated fairly as Shelley has.
No-one deserves our gratitude, admiration, love and honour more than her.
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