Wendybird has intentionally established our spaces to be open to all people, and many people may be wondering what this actually means and thinking “but does that include me?” “I am [insert your identity or experience here, such as cis/straight/queer/young/femme/parent non-binary/male] can I really come along?”
The short and simple answer is yes. Yes, you are welcome, everyone is welcome not only regardless of your diversity, but because of your diversity.
As I am sure you have experienced so many of our ‘LGBTIQ community’ spaces are tailored to one demographic of the LGBTIQ spectrum, whether it be a men’s only space, women’s only event, support group for transgender people, etc. These spaces are legitimate and important, where you build safety and comfort through interacting with those who share your identity.
My first clear memory of feeling an overwhelming sense of belonging was in one of these spaces when I went to a women’s dance night upstairs at the Wickham Hotel. I was in awe of being in a room full of women, women like me where perhaps for the first time in my life I belonged. So this evening, and many evenings after in a women’s only space, were an important part of my experience of community.
Though as I understood more about the broad diversity of the LGBTIQ community, I could clearly see that these spaces cater to the needs of a specific group and in this process either deliberately or accidently exclude others.
This is especially true for those in our community who don’t sit within the binary of straight/gay or male/female, raising the inevitable questions “Am I able to go? Would I be welcomed in this space?” There is always a line drawn somewhere that defines the boundaries of a space, and each and every time, someone invariably will fall on the ‘wrong’ side of the line – and in that moment experience the heartbreaking feeling of exclusion.
The question therefore is - who decides where the line is and who falls on what side? Often it’s those who create and plan these spaces, but also it can be ourselves who decide that we wouldn’t be welcome, and not wanting to experience that uncomfortable moment of rejection, choose not to risk attendance.
For a long time I volunteered with the Lesbian Health Action Group, and through this facilitated a range of activities for same-gender attracted women in our community, and I was often surprised by the number of women who would ask “I don’t identify as a lesbian, I’m queer/bi/trans etc, am I allowed to come?” I was always surprised, and would always say “Yes! Of cause!” But in these moments I realised not only how limiting our language was to describe what we wanted, but also how in using certain language we may exclude those we are most wanting to connect with.
Before our first Wendybird event in September 2014, the collective met for over 6 months in our living rooms and on our back decks, deliberating and debating who we were and what we wanted to create. We all shared the value of inclusivity, and wanted to create an inclusive space, but what did this actually mean? What did inclusivity mean to us as not only individuals, but as a group? And, how could we ensure we practiced in action what we valued, not just to say we were inclusive, but that people would actually experience inclusion?
Personally, I felt increasingly uncomfortable drawing that line, even one as broad as all the letters in our acronym of ‘LGBTIQ’ as there are an array of people who move in and out of this space, those who use other words and terms to describe their experiences, new identities that emerge over time, and those who may not identify with these words, but who may be our allies and valuable people in our community.
None of us wanted to lose the other aspects of what we were trying to create – a space where LGBTIQ people specifically (in all of our diversity) could feel safe and supportive and connect with others with similar identities and lived experiences to themselves, and feel a sense of belonging and community. And we wondered if drawing a line around ‘LGBTIQ’ would actually create this, if we let in people on the edges, if we let in straight people, would this have a negative impact on what we were creating? If we only have LGBTI people, would this guarantee a safe space?
And again, who gets to decide? Do we really want to say to someone, this isn’t the space for you? The question was so simple, but just as complex “Who decides who belongs in the ‘LGBTIQ community?”
I don’t want to say this was a simple process, but through the development of our organisation, now it seems quite clear for us. It isn’t our labels and identities that create the space, but it is our values that create the type of community that we want.
For Wendybird these are our values of compassion, inclusion, belonging, authenticity, participation and sustainability that make our space one that is safer and supportive.
So the person who decides if you belong isn’t us, but it is you.
We decided that we weren’t going to draw a line, and we weren’t going to be limited by labels and identities. If you hear what we are creating, and you think that this sounds like a space for you, then this is the space for you.
So though this reflection we came up with our description ‘Wendybird is a not-for-profit community group led by a collective of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) people who are working together to intentionally grow a safer and always supportive community for people of diverse bodies, genders, relationships and sexualities, their friends, families and children to find meaningful connections.’
And yes, we do mean you.
I have pondered this many times, and I’m really not sure if the concept of ‘Wendybird’ would have formed without the experience of losing my sister – I really hope it would have regardless, but maybe it wouldn’t have the inspiration and motivation behind it.
Today is eight years since my younger sister, Wendy, died at the age of 24 – she would be 33 in a few short weeks’ time if she had in a moment made a different decision about the value of her life. I really don’t think she had the appreciation for how much impact her absence would have – that we would notice, that she would be missed, and even though time has moved on, the world would be irrevocably different.
But since that day many years ago, I have been entertaining a thought that has done nothing but grow. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to be accused of being idealistic, I can hold a clear vision about how I think things should work, and I can get a little stuck.
The thought was; not only do we all long for a place where we can feel safe and belong and experience being our authentic self, but that such a place is critical to our wellbeing and without it we lack the support we need when our own internal resilience isn’t enough.
For us who are LGBTI, who have a body, gender, sexuality or relationship that is considered 'different' this place can be extraordinarily difficult to find. The places where most people find this, in their families, their culture, their home town, their faith, are often closed off to us because of narrow-minded stigma, prejudice and bigotry that leave us excluded. So we dream big about a QUEER community that we will find and it will fill this void and be the family that we are longing.
And, even if we find one of those places that has the feeling of a community, perhaps in the presence of the collective, numerous individuals with a common story, coming together in a common place, wearing a common uniform, for a common purpose providing an illusion of community, that this will be the place where we find belonging. But having fought long and hard to firstly find this community, there then seems to be the second battle to find our place and acceptance within it. But it isn’t really there the way we envisage it – and it doesn’t really meet our needs and over and over we hear ‘community wasn’t there when I needed it’, ‘the community isn’t supportive’, ‘there isn’t a community any more’.... 'community is a myth'.
Despite these experiences myself, feeling isolated in a room full of people who were just like me, being excluded by those who were supposed to understand my experience, I couldn’t let go of my thought… Is there something that we are missing? How do we find community when we are so invisible and isolated? And if we do find this community, how do we connect and foster belonging? What can we do to develop a sense of community and sense of belonging that is greater than each of us alone?
A short while ago, I stumbled across a paper by Ingrid Burkett that really captured the key concept to my ponderings.
She explored that we have come to see community as a fixed object that has fixed characteristics, spaces and structures where we idealise experiences of harmony and closeness – but that with time these spaces have been lost or damaged by those within it and essentially we see community as something that existed externally to ourselves.
However, what if we see community not so much as an object or as a noun but rather as an action, a series of ongoing processes, an act of creating meaning - community is a verb, a ‘doing word’, indicating action, process and change.
From this perspective community can’t be a given or taken away – but is something that is in each of us and is the result of us actively creating and recreating our experiences directly with other people. Interpersonal interactions become fundamental to the understanding of community.
With this, I came to understand that community isn’t out there, it is in each of us. We are the community we long for.
Wendybird was inspired by one person’s story of isolation and disconnection, that is common to us all, but what has been key to our success has merely been the extension of an invitation for us all to take up the action of community.
Thank you all for being on this journey with us. I don’t doubt that Wendy would be proud of what we all have created together.
If you need to connect with someone quickly or before our next event, please remember QLife is available from 5.30 to 10.30pm on 1800 184 527 or https://qlife.org.au/
Burkett, I. (2001). Traversing the swampy terrain of postmodern communities: towards theoretical revisionings of community development, European Journal of Social Work Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 233–246 .
Well it is the New Year, and this is always an opportunity for reflection over the last 12 months and to look forward to the coming year, and in the last few weeks I have been contemplating Wendybird.
It was only in February last year that Chantel and I tentatively shared our idea for Wendybird with a group of friends and colleagues that I admired greatly for their achievements in the LGBTI community. Most people probably don’t know their names, but you will likely be aware of the things that they have created – Transcendence, T Bar, Big Gay Day, Open Doors, Many Genders One Voice, and many more foundations of the LGBTI sector in Brisbane - so I have been in awe of their work since I started my own queer career many years ago.
Surprisingly to me, they where not only interested in the idea, but have gotten on board with energy, ideas and years of knowledge to help create something with one key commitment – to build a space where people can connect.
Even before we held our first event, Wendybird was creating a community where we all felt like we belonged to something important; where we all were valued and where we could contribute to building something that we valued; and the first tentative feelings of hope that we had founded something that would be meaningful to people in our community
I must admit, it was pretty scary to finally hold our first event in the Brisbane Pride Festival in September, wondering if people would turn up, wondering if people would understand what we were trying to do and if they would connect with us in the way that we hoped.
But you did turn up and almost instantly we saw people connecting, reaching out of your individual worlds and forming bonds with those around you. We saw community forming around us and have be warmed by the stories of your experiences of Wendybird.
This year we will be continuing to create these spaces for connection by holding an event every 6 weeks where we will continue to invite people to redefine community as something we do not as something that exist external from us, but which is within and between us.
Welcome to 2015, lets do things differently together.
The Wendybird is still forming as an organisation and we have a dedicated group of LGBTIQ community members who are working hard behind the scene to create a sustainable organisation that fills a need in the LGBTI community – that being to create spaces and opportunities for meaningful connection for LGBTI, Queer, same-sex attracted and gender diverse people in Brisbane.
We are very aware that this is not a very good environment to be starting a new organisation – organisations cost money to run and funding in scarce to say the least. Certainly there is very little financial investment in LGBTI organisations, with no state-based funding that targets the LGBTI community currently available with the funded LGBTI organisaitons in Queensland (QuAC, Open Doors and GLWA) all receiving federal funding to deliver their services to the community.
Much funding comes with a lot of strings attached dictating very specifically what you can do, how you have to do and for which target group which are guided by what is in flavour with the funder. This means that many things that are needed don’t get funding and many groups of people who really need support but who aren’t identified as important by governments miss out. It is also quite short term solution, with many programs having to shut down just after they are starting to have some impact. Personally I have seen this happen time and time again – and it can be so frustrating!
To fill the gap there are a raft of other volunteer run LGBTI groups that operate purely on donations and fundraising, but given the limited financial capacity of many in the LGBTI and broader community, it can be very difficult to raise enough funds to deliver services that are needed.
So with this in mind, Wendybird will be established as a social enterprise. Social enterprises are a commercially viable business that exist primarily to benefit the community rather than shareholders or their owners by reinvesting their profits into the community.
This week, Chantel and I travelled to Melbourne to attend a workshop facilitated by the Social Traders about social enterprises Day one ran through the nuts and bolts of the Social Enterprise, how they operate, and how they can be beneficial the community and contribute to beneficial change in a financially sustainable and independent way. Day two was a tour of successful businesses in the Melbourne area including The Social Studio, Abbortsford Convent, Bendigo Bank and Dear Gladys. Other great examples include Thankyou Water and Who Gives a Crap toilet paper and you can buy from social enterprises on this new website Good Spender http://www.goodspender.com.au/.
This was tremendously helpful to focus our ideas and to make this goal more of a reality. We are still exploring what is the best option for a viable business that will both compliment and financially support our activities in a sustainable way, so if you have any ideas we would love to hear them.
In the meantime we are auspiced by the Community Initiatives Resource Association and will be will be looking for some small grants from philanthropic foundations that can help kick start Wendybird into a viable and sustainable not-for-profit organisation. On that note, we are excited to announce that we have received $2000 from the Kal Collins Memorial Fund that we will use to purchase some equipment that we will use to facilitate our events.
Wendybird can’t exist without a community of people working hard to do things differently and we will are committed to bringing you all along with us on the journey from a small volunteer run group to a successful thriving business!
Until then, keep connecting!
Wendybird has been created to provides spaces and places for LGBTI people to connect in more meaningful ways and to actively create a community that we want to live in. We are determined to do things differently. But many people may be wondering why the Wendybird is called the Wendybird. I admit that it is quite an abstract name and not one that people would connect with an LGBTI community group, but it'sa name that has very significant meaning and we hope that as more people connect with what we do that this name will also gain meaning.
Wendy was my younger sister, who somewhere along the way gained the nickname Wendybird. I’m not really sure where this came from, but it certainly was fitting because like a bird, Wendy had a sense of freedom that I certainly admired and never felt I had.
However, more than my sister, she was my lil’ queer sis’ - because like me, she was gay. Having a gay sister was an awesome experience. From feeling so very alone in the realisations of my own sexuality and having significant anxiety about not fitting in or following expectations, I was suddenly not the only one in my family who was different. Together we became friends, we supported each other, explored the LGBTI community together, even living together on and off over the years.
It’s unfortunate that the story of Wendy doesn’t have a happy ending, but if am to tell it right, I also have to be honest about the parts that aren’t so happy to recall. Wendy, although so vivacious, also experienced extreme sadness and depression and never bounced back after arelationship break-up and became quite disconnected from the things that are important to us all, and she lost her sense of belonging and feeling that she was important in the world. With this clouding her life she attempted suicide twice before dying by suicide a few weeks before her 25th birthday in 2007.
Wendybird wasn’t created to be a shrine or a memorial of Wendy, but is an honouring of this person who existed in our community who felt the way that many of us who are LGBTI do – disconnected, lonely and alone without a place to belong. But rather than let the mental health statistics win, we want to do things differently. Wendybird is creating something new and is reaching out and inviting people to connect, in a deliberate and intentional way to actively create, build and participate in community. To build a community where we all can belong, no matter our identities, labels or experiences of our gender or sexuality, everyone is welcome.
Wendybird has now becoming a word that is synonymous with warmth, acceptance, inclusion, safety and most of all belonging. We hope that you can find a little Wendybird in your life as well.
I had an idea. A pretty big idea, a vision that for such a long time was mostly a fantasy, one of those that was always prefaced with ‘what if…’ or ‘one day…’ and even ‘if I win the lotto…’ that would float around in my head and occupy my thoughts.
One day in earlier this year, I started to share this idea with others, people I had known and worked with who I felt a level of connection with. And what I found was that I wasn’t the only one with this idea!
And as we worked together, this idea became tangible, something that was not just a vision but a reality.
It is now time to share this idea, this vision, this goal with all of you. Essentially we want to build something, we want to build a community, a community where all of us are welcomed and can belong. And we want you to be a part of it.
I have worked, lived and played in the LGBTI community for quite some time now. What I have come to appreciate is the value to belonging as an intrinsic element to our wellbeing, but is something that so many of us struggle so hard to find. As LGBTI people we aren’t fortunate enough to be born into our community, rarely does our family share our identity and sadly so often they don’t understand it. And each of us over the years at some time or another have ventured out to connect with people who share our interests, values and way of being to find that elusive sense of belonging.
So how do we do it? We venture out of our comfort zones and look for connections. We usually go to the gay positive spaces that are visible and easy to access, namely our pubs and clubs, which are great to have fun and to have a drink, but they often do not help facilitate the types of connections we are really craving. I have seen so many people walk away from these spaces feeling more disconnected than when they walked in. There are cultural norms to navigate, the fear of reaching out alone, cliques and established social groups to penetrate. Additionally so many of our spaces are tailored to one part of the LGBTI community and therefore exclude some either deliberately or incidentally as they try to cater to the needs of some and thereby shutting out others.
Because of this many people speak about the LGBTI communities, as a plural, that there many forms of community taking place at the same time. And with this complex combination of communities operating, how many times have you being told that this space is not for you? If you aren’t a woman or a man that you aren’t welcome? What about those times you have had to prove that you are trans enough, gay enough or woman enough to be included?
With these boundaries, the LGBTI community can put up so many barriers, so finding your community, your people, can be so hard. And it can be hard when you are resilient, confident and resourceful, let
alone if you are vulnerable, uncertain and scared. Sometimes we are lucky to find our people, however many times we are not. I have had this conversation with so many different people who are all craving that sense of belonging, but there simply aren’t the opportunities available that they are looking for and their
experience of the LGBTI community is one of exclusion, not inclusion.
Consequently , I have heard people say that the LGBTI community is a myth, and that it doesn’t really exist at all, but I felt disappointed by this realisation, knowing how vital community and belonging is to us all
Not wanting to accept this, I wanted to go out there and create a space for the whole community that welcomes all people regardless of their identity and celebrates the vast diversity sex, sexuality and gender identity that connects people in a way that we have been craving.
But perhaps community isn’t a place or even a destination that we can just turn up to, but rather community is something that we do. That we create community ourselves through merely participating with a willingness to embrace each other in our differences and from this place share our stories, learn from each other and create the type of community that we are wanting.
This is what The Wendybird is all about – building a community; connecting with each other; and finding a sense of belonging.
We would like to invite you with open arms and open hearts to be a part of this community and create with us a space where we are all welcomed
So, welcome to The Wendybird (and, yes, that does mean you!)