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.