Shepparton’s festival celebrating community diversity and LGBTQI+ pride, Out in the Open, kicked off yesterday with three inclusive events. Now in its eighth year, Out in the Open was created to address inequalities faced by the local LGBTQI+ communities and build a more inclusive Greater Shepparton.

This year, the festival has grown from a weekend of events to eleven days of inclusive, diverse programming—something organiser Damien Stevens-Todd is very excited about.

“We are eleven days long this year with almost 30 events. Who would have thought that eight years ago, we would have grown this little baby into something so big,” Stevens-Todd told the Star Observer.

“I think for a regional and rural town like Shepparton, and for regional and rural people who often don’t have access to the array of events, a program like this is very exciting. It has something for everyone, from families and our multicultural communities, and that’s a significant thing to have as part of the calendar.”

Out in the Open started on Thursday with a Rainbow Storytime with Frock Hudson in the local library, a forum for LGBTQI+ health sector training, and a multi-faith feast for everyone to enjoy. While there is plenty of partying this weekend, it is exciting to see a different focus for how we celebrate and come together.

Frock Hudson at Rainbow Storytime and United We Feast. Photo: Out in the Open Festival Shepparton/Facebook.

“This year we are particularly proud of our family friendly events which really have something for everyone,” Stevens-Todd told us.

“We have events for our multicultural communities as well as the Laramie Project, a production by our local arts group, towards the end of the festival which looks at the death of Mathew Sheppard.

“Of course, it’s not all hard-hitting drama, with fun events like our Carnival Day this Sunday in the Queens Gardens, and our Glitz Party on Saturday night with drag queens. We are proud that we have created something for everyone.”

Over the remaining ten days events include meals and gatherings; the Book Launch of About a Girl by Rebekah Roberston; Transmansplaining, an original one man show based on the life of Ben MacEllen; and even a concert by The Rainbow Band & Shep Brass and Wind.

“Cramming 30 events into eleven days is a huge task and we could have easily stretched this over three or four weeks. Perhaps in the future we will be able to, it certainly looks that way with the number of stakeholders and community groups and people stepping forward and creating events,” Stevens-Todd said.

Celebrating with pride at Out in the Open 2015. Photo Dean Arcuri.

“Creating something for our regional community is really important but so too is creating something for our supporters and allies,” he added. “Whether it’s at a forum on how to be more inclusive in their health care service, or a family friendly event there is something for everyone.

“We’ve always said this festival is for everybody, and if you are questioning as a hetero person or someone who is not LGBTI and wondering if this festival is for you, the answer is yes. We want a safe space where our allies and communities can mingle together safely, have a good time and break down barriers together while shifting hearts and minds along the way. By all coming together. we send a really strong message that we are all for supporting and affirming diversity.

Out in the Open runs from 31 October–10 November in Shepparton, Victoria. Visit www.outintheopen.org.au for further details, including the full program. 

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