Second year Journalism and International Studies student with interest in local journalism.
Saturday, March 2: Mardi Gras revellers from rural and regional areas have marched to promote inclusion and encourage a transformation in country NSW's LGBTQI+ culture.
Members of regionally-based organisations said representation in Mardi Gras and similar celebrations is the key to motivating acceptance in their own communities.
Rural and Regional Alliance of Queer Students member Sam Laurie, said this year's Mardi Gras theme of fearlessness inspired him to be "unashamed to exist in a straight world", and that it was particularly relevant to LGBTQI+ people from small towns, where "things are changing a lot slower than in city areas."
"Some people in smaller towns don't realise they know any gay people, so us being here can help educate," he said.
CSU student Mikayla Hoad, agreed that many in her hometown's population of less than 5000 were "close-minded", leading LGBTQI+ students to band together in organisations like the RARAQS.
"Even though we come from different towns, we have an ongoing sense of connection," she said.
This year, the student alliance and other regionally-based organisations like the Central West Rainbow Alliance, are being supported by city-based groups including Heaps Gay, which is welcoming 25 first-time marchers from regional areas.
Mardi Gras Parade, 2019 (Images/Meg Kanofski)
AIDS Council of NSW's Regional Outreach Development Manager Ted Cook, says perceptions of social stigma in rural and regional locations can present various challenges such as preventing LGBTQI+ people from accessing sexual health services in their local area, despite clinics being committed to protecting the privacy of their clients.
Mr Cook says hesitation can stem from concerns that "people might see them entering a service and make assumptions about their sexual health status."
"Many travel huge distances...because it feels more comfortable," he says.
Mikayla Hoad hopes the Mardi Gras turn-out from non-metropolitan participants will help eliminate stigma and promote a culture of fearlessness.
"We'd like to see more towns follow our lead and even have their own Mardi Gras marches soon," she said. - Meg Kanofski @megkanofski