With the 2017 Honour Awards occurring tonight, the opportunity to recognise excellence and achievement within NSW’s young LGBTQIA+ community arises.
All three finalists for the Young Achiever Award have effectively used their voices in order to advocate for those who still feel silenced. These women are the heroes of our community, and are trailblazing a movement of young LGBTQI Australians seeking to unite marginalised communities through the power of difference.
Here are the finalists for the 2017 Young Achiever Award, presented by SBS Sexuality.
Mikhara Ramsing, social entrepreneur and advocate for culturally and linguistically diverse LGBT+ communities
Ramsing is the founder of Ground Chai - a social enterprise that uses workshops to equip youth with the tools to think about and share their stories - and Ethnic LGBT+ - a free online platform providing education, mentoring and a safe place for members to share their stories.
After dreaming about engaging with youth in rural communities around Australia, to better understand the challenges they faced and how one could best address them, she left her corporate job at the start of this year to make this dream a reality. “For the last 6 months [my partner and I] have been travelling around Australia engaging with communities and working with youth.”
With over a decade of experience facilitating youth conferences and working with young people in Australia, India, Nepal and Tanzania, Ramsing is vocal about her vision of a more inclusive Australia- an Australia where members of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) LGBT+ communities feel safe to express themselves authentically.
“Unfortunately a lot of CALD communities blatantly deny the existence of LGBT+ individuals in their communities and feel this is a Western concept that has been taught to their kids,” she explains. “This is further compounded with misunderstandings about visa implications if their child is identifying as LGBT+ given the current lack of recognition of same-sex marriage.” She admits that Ethnic LGBT+ has had to do a lot of myth-busting regarding issues that have been brought to light due to the postal vote.
“To all my fellow youth out there,” she concludes, “never discount your voice and the stories you can share with the world, listen to what is being said, especially in these times of polarising debate, lend your voice to this conversation and make it your own. Your story will save lives.”
Sheridan Williams, advocate for LGBTI youth in Albury-Wodonga region, challenger of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
Sheridan Williams is an avid supporter of LGBTI youth in the Albury-Wodonga region, raising attention to the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that often permeates throughout regional attitudes, while educating those around her in order to empower communities to challenge these feelings. She also notices the heteronormative structure of schooling, and is passionate about introducing the experiences of gender and sexual diversity into the school curriculum.
According to Williams, teaching through conversation is key. “A lot of these attitudes come from misinformation and ignorance. For this reason, it is vital to educate wherever you can,” she says. With this in mind, she believes that better education in schools, especially when concerning sexual education, is vital in teaching LGBTQI youth that they are important and loved just as they are.
Young people, she considers, are the beacons of change, with a passion that must be utilised in order to stand up for issues that are crucial to us. “Especially when we consider the major issues of history, young people have been at the forefront of the fight. It is imperative that we continue that trend and use our enthusiasm and spirit to change the world for the better.
For Williams, this nomination is a reminder that no place is too small to start change. “Working within a small community, there are few opportunities for recognition,” she says. “It is incredibly humbling to be nominated for such a huge award. It reminds me that the effort, discrimination and pain are worth it when attempting to change the world.”
Iz Connell, social worker and LGBTI and disability rights advocate
Iz Connell has been nominated for her ongoing advocacy for LGBTI and disability rights, including her unwavering participation in a number of campaigns and workshops, such as her ambassador role in the Don’t DIS my ABILITY campaign, and volunteering for LGBTI organisations.
Despite her influential roles, and working publicly for seven years, being recognized as a finalist has come as a surprise to the young influencer. “If you'd told me five years ago that I would be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, travel across the world or be a disability and LGBTI rights campaigner in the media and community,” she says, “I'd probably laugh and say 'yeah, sure'.”
For Connell, it’s very important for young people to not only stand up for their beliefs, but for their identities and lived realities. “If you can't take a stand, take a seat. The time to decide between what is right and what is easy is already upon us.”
“There's a definite need to be more intersectional, or understanding of interconnections, in our work,” she notes. “Being gay is hard. Being disabled is hard. Being both is even harder, and successive governments have failed to act in the best interests of either of these groups."
With this in mind, Connell intends to continue advocating for the rights of LGBTI people, particularly those with disabilities, youth, those on lower incomes and her indigenous friends. “We [also] need to raise welfare payments to the minimum wage, institute legal protections for LGBTI people, tax religious organisations and end the obsession with neoliberalism and austerity.”
Importantly, Connell considers, straight and non-disabled Australians, too, must challenge the status quo just as much as their queer counterparts. “The idea that having a disability is a burden, or the idea that being straight is preferable to being gay… Both of these ideas need to go.”
Mikhara, Sheridan and Iz are the faces of a new wave of young Australians looking to empower diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community and champion the stories of queer youth. The 2017 Honour Awards will take place in Sydney tonight, Wednesday 27 September. To purchase tickets, head over to their site here.
Louis Hanson has also written for Fairfax, the Guardian, the Huffington Post and Archer, among others, is a student at the University of Melbourne, and an LGBTQI, mental health advocate. Website: louishanson.com and Instagram: @louishanson.