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Let’s talk about LGBTIQ+ Women

For International Women's Day 2023, Thorne Harbour Health Acting CEO, Carolyn Gillespie, takes a moment to celebrate LGBTIQ+ women in our communities and acknowledge the need to keep the conversation going about their health and wellbeing.

March 8th marks International Women’s Day – a global day to celebrate the achievements of women. As the Acting CEO of one of Australia’s largest LGBTIQ+ health organisations, this is an important day to stop and acknowledge the legacy and contributions of LGBTIQ+ women in our advocacy for, and support of, the health and wellbeing of both our LGBTIQ+ communities and people living with HIV.

This year Thorne Harbour Health celebrates 40 years since our founding as the Victorian AIDS Action Committee in 1983. Five years ago, we revisited our origin story and enshrined the contribution of lesbian activist Alison Thorne in our name alongside Keith Harbour (WATCH - https://youtu.be/03k8WMJQvCQ). While it was Alison’s ‘rallying cry’ that prompted the founding of the organisation, there are countless other women who have contributed to the incredible progress we have made over the last four decades – many, like Alison, still contribute to our work and our mission today. Their collective experience and wisdom is an all-too-often under-recognised and untapped resource for our communities.

One of the ways we can access their wisdom and stories is through shared experiences like th upcoming LGBTIQ+ Women’s Health Conference. Since our inaugural conference in 2015, we have been able to foster long overdue conversations about the health needs and experiences of LGBTIQ+ women in Australia. This conference brings our diverse women’s community together with practitioners, researchers and funders to draw out the key issues for LGBTIQ+ women, and is unique in Australia.

We look forward to partnering once again with ACON as we present the 2023 LGBTIQ Women’s Health Conference in Melbourne on 24-25 October.

While it’s paramount that the conference continues to elevate the issues we still need to address, we also hope, like on International Women’s Day, it celebrates the many achievements of women in our communities.

I am incredibly proud to hold a position of leadership alongside so many other inspiring women. Thorne Harbour Health’s President Janet Jukes OAM was one of the founding Co Conveners of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (now the Victorian Pride Lobby) and was admitted to the Order of Australia in 2021 for her work. Many of our partner organisations including Equality Australia, JOY Media, Victorian Pride Centre, Shine SA and Midsumma – all have queer women at the helm. Even our Minister for Equality is Victoria’s first openly lesbian Member of Parliament – the Honourable Harriet Shing.

It’s incredible and inspiring!

And speaking of women in Parliament, this past week on Well Well Well, the team featured a conversation between recently elected MP Rachel Payne and the iconic Fiona Patten. If you haven’t heard it, I invite you to have a listen: https://joy.org.au/wellwellwell/2023/03/women-in-leadership-fiona-patten-and-rachel-payne-mp/

While having women in positions of leadership is an important step, we know the work is far from over. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity. The distinction between equality and equity is one we talk about a lot in our LGBTIQ+ communities. Equal opportunities are not enough when you consider that we don’t all start from the same place. So where do we start?

At the end of 2021, Thorne Harbour released our first Women’s Health Strategy – an important step in identifying and outlining the health challenges faced by all women in our LGBTIQ+ communities and a roadmap for us as we evolve and expand our service offering to be inclusive of LGBTIQ+ women and address some of the inequities we face.

Last week, I had the honour of attending the Sydney WorldPride Human Rights Conference, and I drew inspiration from connecting with the extraordinary array of LGBTIQ+ human rights defenders, community activists, creatives, researchers and policymakers; many of whom are women. The particular experiences of LGBTIQ+ women were elevated and explored in various forums throughout the 3-day conference, and the critical need for peer-led, community-controlled responses to our issues was affirmed and upheld. It was wonderful to see the global collective efforts that continue to be made to strengthen the health and wellbeing of our communities.

We are certainly starting to see some encouraging momentum towards better health and wellbeing outcomes for LGBTIQ+ women, but the real success will be when we see equity realised – when there is no LGBTIQ+ woman who starts from a place of disadvantage and our health and wellbeing needs are recognised and properly addressed.

It’s a big aspiration, but when we look at achievements LGBTIQ+ women to date – anything is possible. To all my LGBTIQ+ women’s communities and to our allies, I wish you a Happy International Women’s Day.

...the real success will be when we see equity realised – when there is no LGBTIQ+ woman who starts from a place of disadvantage and our health and wellbeing needs are recognised and properly addressed.

Carolyn Gillespie, Acting CEO


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