– Queer Formal in St Kilda providing a safe space for LGBTI teens to have a fun night out

April 8, 2017


April 08, 2017 14:13:32

The team from youth charity Minus 18 is hard at work, setting up St Kilda Town Hall for the event that is only hours away.

As volunteers string up rainbow coloured paper chains, one drops to the ground.

“Oh my God,” one says. “You’ve ruined gay Christmas!”

The Queer Formal is a celebration for its 550 teenage attendees, fuelled by reverberating pop music and sugary slushy drinks.

Before the doors open, the kids stand around outside, clustering nervously in small groups.

Ren and Tiana, both 16, are unsure what to expect, but excited enough by the energy to declare the formal a success before they’ve even gone into the venue.

“I’m just feeling kind of nervous, because I don’t like to dance,” Ren says. Tiana agrees.

“I can’t dance, so we’ll be terrible together,” she says.

The pair have travelled from country Victoria to come to the formal, and wish there were events like this closer to home.

“They should be on more often, and all around Victoria,” Ren says.

School still a tough place for LGBTI kids

Inside, the nervousness seems to dissipate, helped by the combination of a party atmosphere and a lot of sugar.

Minus 18’s chief executive Micah Scott hopes events like this will one day become redundant.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to run LGBTI-specific events,” he says.

“In 2017 I think a lot of people think that high school is a lot safer and a lot easier for LGBTI young people than it actually really is.

“We hear cases all the time of schools really pressuring or not allowing young people to take their partners of the same gender to their high school formal, and even more so young people who want to wear the clothes that much their gender identity not being allowed to or not feeling comfortable doing that.”

There is a strong and very literal message that this is a safe place.

Signs plastered around the event warn against homophobia, transphobia and racism.

LGBTI ‘angels’ supporting the younger generation

Outside, there is a brightly coloured and sparkly guard of honour.

These are the angels, adults from the LGBTI community who have come out to show their support.

The angels originate from protests against the Westboro Baptist Church, an extreme religious organisation that pickets the funerals of gay people in the United States.

Their large wings are designed to shield grieving families, literally blocking the protesters from view.

Last year, the Same Sex Gender Diverse Formal — as this event was then known — attracted its own protesters when conservative lobby groups railed against the event.

Nigel Wapling from the Vic Bears, a social club for gay men, was among the adults of the LGBTI community who donned the angel wings then.

This year there’s no fear of protesters, but the angels are back all the same.

“This is sending a message to the kids to say that we still actually support them,” he says.

Last year’s protest against the event took the form of buying up tickets, so that LGBTI kids could not attend.

However, this backfired, leading to a surge in donations to sponsor tickets for those who were going to miss out.

Mr Scott says of the 550 tickets sold for this year’s event, 250 were subsidised by the community.

“That says two things, we’re so grateful for that community support, but it really shows how important events like this are,” he says.

“One of the biggest reasons people donate and sponsor a child, if you will, the reason they give is because they wish they had that experience, and what an impact that would have had on their growing up experience.”







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