First Nations and LGBTIQ+ join together. Photo: Michael Hitch

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By Michael Hitch

City of Sydney Council has voted unanimously to grant a $20,000 scholarship to the Equality Project to help facilitate its Better Together conference in Sydney in January 2019.

The scholarship will assist with the costs of running the conference under the Sustainable Sydney 2030 vision.

Better Together will explore issues facing the LGBTIQ+ community in Australia with a focus on highlighting voices from the First Nations, multi-cultural and disabled communities.

It is hoped the conference will help the City of Sydney to a broader understanding of issues related to its LGBTIQ+ community beyond those already in the mainstream.

A City of Sydney spokesperson said that the event was critical for LGBTIQ+ civic participation and would strengthen relationships with the City’s diverse residents.

“The Better Together conference will bring the collective experience and wisdom of all parts of society to achieve not just LGBTIQ+ justice, but justice for First Nations people, women and girls, people with disability, the Deaf community, young people, refugees and our whole community,” the spokesperson said.

“While great strides were made in the Marriage Equality movement, it was just one small but significant part of developing socially just and resilient communities where everyone is treated equally.

“Real equality means living in a society where everyone has the capacity for full participation – regardless of gender, sexuality, race, disability or creed – and this starts with greater understanding and acceptance between the diverse communities that make up our society.

“In bringing LGBTIQ+ communities together for open discussion and debate, it is expected that there will be greater understanding and acceptance of difference between the diverse groups represented, providing the opportunity to build strong, connected networks that can support each other in their drive to create meaningful social change.” The Equality Project is a non-profit, national organisation and charity established in 2017, which brings LGBTIQ+ community members together with allies across the social justice movement, to advocate for a better, more just, and fairer society.

Better Together 2018, was held in Melbourne in January 2018 with over 670 attendees from across Australia as well as a number of delegates from the United Kingdom, United States and the Philippines.

Better Together 2019 will be held at the University of Technology, Sydney from 11-12 January.

Conference organisers say their aim is to explore current issues facing the LGBTIQ+ community including transgender, intersex and bisexual community issues, with an emphasis on centering voices from First Nations communities, people with disabilities, as well as multicultural and multi-faith communities.

The $20,000 sponsorship from the City of Sydney has been granted to provide places for delegates experiencing financial hardship, to pay for Auslan interpreters and to cover other conference expenses.

The unanimous decision from Council to grant the scholarship was partly due to the conference’s alignment with the ‘Vibrant Local Communities and Economies’ strategy to encourage diversity in the Sustainable Sydney 2030 program.

Liberal Councillor, Christine Forster said that the Better Together conference would increase social connectedness and establish vital connections between Council and the LGBTIQ+ community to help forge change and progress.

“The conference aims to strengthen LGBTIQ+ leadership and advocacy, increase intersectoral collaboration and connection and provide leadership, networking and mentoring opportunities for participants,” she said.

“[It] will provide opportunities to increase social connectedness among diverse communities; enhance a sense of belonging among diverse communities; strengthen social cohesion among culturally diverse communities and encourage active participation in community life.

Inner West Councillor, Pauline Lockie said she welcomed the sponsorship decision and said that she was happy to see City Of Sydney Council sponsoring projects and initiatives the Inner West Council has also committed to.

“I would imagine that this particular conference is very much in line with what the City of Sydney has said they want to achieve, particularly given that they have one of the most LGBTIQ+ communities in the entire country,” she said

“Speaking as an Inner West Councillor, it’s certainly within Council’s responsibility to sponsor or offer grants to projects and initiatives that line up with a community strategic plan, and achieve objectives that we as a community and as a council say that we’re committed to.”

“The conference will contribute to increased social cohesion by building capacity within the LGBTIQ+ communities and organisations to collaborate with other groups of diverse and intersectional backgrounds,” said Christine Forster.

“As an outcome of this process it is expected that there will be greater understanding and acceptance of difference between the diverse groups represented.”

The City of Sydney spokesperson said that the Council is committed to making the City into an exciting cultural hub, with the energy and suggestions from conference marking another step towards achieving a truly interconnected community.

“The City is committed to creating a vibrant and resilient City of Sydney, where everyone has access to the resources they need to live happy and healthy lives, and where they can actively participate in the community in which they live,” the spokesperson said.

“This discussion will give LGBTIQ+ people from all parts of our community the ability to connect, discuss the issues addressing their own specific community group, and make positive steps towards social change.”