A GLAMorous Midsumma: Building trust and creating safe spaces for diverse communities to facilitate knowledge creation

When it was revealed that Midsumma had established a media partnership with News Corp, the organisation responsible for publishing many attacks on LGBTIQA communities in 2016 (not to mention before then), I felt a loss of trust in the board. Initially, I felt a little sick about the prospect of participating in the festival and know I am not the only one who did. I participated in discussions with different groups about whether or not to boycott but after each discussion I felt that it was more important and powerful to support the artists and community groups involved in running events given than to boycott the festival. Thankfully, Midsumma eventually cancelled the partnership, but not before Dykes on Bikes announced that they would be donating h money from their fundraiser at Carnival to the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives instead of the festival… which eventually led to this photo:

alga-bikeI was feeling disillusioned and anxious about participating in Midsumma in 2017, but I was pleasantly by those events I attended in the GLAM sector and beyond. I saw GLAMorous examples of safe spaces and learnt a lot about how we can do more to build trust and create safe and inclusive spaces to empower diverse communities.

glam-midsumma

At the Incinerator Gallery in Rainbow Valley, the Convergent Pathologies exhibition by the Myriad collective of trans and gender diverse artists vividly captured the experiences of being trans and gender diverse and living with mental illness. Beautiful Women, a small photographic exhibition by Lisa White (in partnership with Breastscreen Victoria) focussed on health promotion for LBT women and highlighted the work that Breastscreen Australia were doing to create a more diverse, inclusive and safe organisation and service.

Brimbank and Wyndham councils also hosted excellent, diverse exhibitions events, but unfortunately I was unable to make it because I work full-time and am not able to time travel (yet). Brimbank hosted the ‘Outing disability‘ photographic exhibition and panel discussion on disability and sexuality and Wyndham hosted the exhibition  “OTHER – OTHER: the marginalised of the marginalised” curated by GLBTIQ artists Peter Waples Crowe and Pila Darling.

Melbourne Library Service’s City Library hosted I think they are staring at me, curated by Ari Hunter, which was another excellent exhibition featuring works from trans and gender diverse artists. As well as having wonderful art and sneaky book and zine recommendations, the exhibition also included useful advice about creating inclusive and safe spaces and services for trans and gender diverse people.

The City Library also made one of their toilets gender neutral as part of their commitment to trans and gender diverse community members for the duration of the festival. This is a great step, and I am pretty certain that newer Melbourne Library Service branches (at Docklands and Carlton) have gender neutral bathrooms, but when seeing a sign that said they were only going to be there for the duration of Midsumma did make me question whether or not their commitment to trans and gender diversity went beyond the festival. I am optimistic that they will find a way to make them permanent.

I was also invited to participate as a committee member of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in a Queer reading circle hosted by Melbourne Library Service. This event was very well facilitated and we had quite lively and diverse discussions on queer literature from LGBTIQA Young Adult fiction to LGBTIQA histories. We discussed what we’d like to read more of in queer literature and the answer was greater diversity of LGBTIQA characters and stories as well as friendships in LGBTIQA communities given that so often there is only one token LGBTIQA friend. I hope the queer reading circles can continue beyond Midsumma too.

Darebin Libraries hosted ‘Colouring the Rainbow: Blak Queer and Trans perspectives’ at Northcote Library, which was a panel discussion about the lives and experiences of First Nations LGBTIQ people. This was based on a book of the same name that was released in late 2015.  This discussion and book was excellent and long overdue. I was struck by stories of people finding resilience, empowerment, family, connection, support, hope and safe places in online and physical worlds.

I learned that as well as being a way to share knowledge and stories, the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA)’s history walk though East Melbourne was a tool for knowledge gathering as the attendees helped fill in gaps in the archival collection and volunteer archivists’ and historians knowledge. I’ve been reading a lot of Lankes lately and this felt like an example of the community being the collection, which is particularly important for capturing and sharing histories of groups of people marginalised by government. You really cannot rely on public records and archives alone to tell such histories. The history walk demonstrated how people found ways to “live queerly” in dark times when being gay was illegal, classified as a mental illness and so on.

I also saw the excellent play ‘I am my own wife’ about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transgender woman, founder of the Gründerzeit Museum (a museum of everyday items) in Berlin, and a survivor of Nazi and Communist regimes. The museum was often a safe space for meetings and celebrations for those in the East Berlin homosexual scene. GLAMorous Brisbane folk can see the play in April: http://iammyownwife.com.au.

The Greens hosted a ‘Many colours of the rainbow’ panel discussion with Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, Budi Sudarto, Dr Judy Tang and Imam Nur Wassarame to have a conversation on diverse race, religion, culture and LGBTIQA issues. There is racism in LGBTIQA communities and homophobia among culturally and linguistically diverse and religious communities, but there is also a lot of acceptance, support and celebration too. The guests focussed on how they have created safe platforms for LGBTIQ people from culturally and linguistically diverse and religious communities to have a voice, participate in society and thrive, as they noted that many existing forums to do so (including panel discussions) were often not safe and comfortable. They urged allies to support them to express themselves rather than speak for them or tell them how to express themselves. However, they also noted the importance of being a visible ally: noting that it can help build hope and confidence. They reiterated the importance of food, humour and storytelling in combating social isolation and building a sense of belonging, comfort and safety. They also emphasised the need to stop, ask and listen to needs rather than assume them based on preconceived ideas of race, class and religion in order to help build trust. It finished with a reminder that safety means different things to different people and that when you provide safety for people you should be prepared to answer a lot of questions.

I saw Budi Sudarto again as he MCed Yarra City Council and Polykala’s Working With Pride panel discussion and playback theatre to launch their collaborative Working With Pride project: a leadership program designed to encourage managers and leaders to create a fair and inclusive workplace environment.  Guests included Jason Ball, Rowena Allen, Brenda Appleton and Bec Scott. They had experiences being out and supporting out LGBTIQ people in diverse workplaces, including sports, hospitality and the public service. The playback theatre captured stories of pride in the workplace from the audience and made it both more fun and more heartbreaking than a mere panel discussion. The key messages I took from this event were around the power of personal stories in building trust and understanding, empathy, removing fear of the unknown and in opening up the conversation and the power of allies. Similarly to the ‘Many colours of the Rainbow’ panel, they noted that it was important to be overtly not covertly LGBTIQA inclusive and suggested that even little displays can make a huge difference. As such, they urged allies to ask, listen, give it a go, make mistakes, apologise and learn from their mistakes.

I have just finished just finished reading Lankes’ New Librarianship Field Guide where he argues amd illustrates that one of the fundamental ways that librarians can and do facilitate knowledge creation is by providing safe spaces for people from different viewpoints and backgrounds to have conversations and connect with each other because we learn through conversations. I hope that this post will help others in the GLAM sector do this by establishing ground rules to ensure that these conversations are welcoming and respectful so that our diverse communities can express their ideas, share their knowledge, know that they have been heard and find representation in the resources we create and facilitate access to.

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