THE Broken Hill of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert fame, where gay people would be advised to pass straight through, is not the Broken Hill of today, say supporters of a five-month long diversity festival that concluded last weekend.

Lesbian and gay issues featured strongly at the inaugural Festival of Respect, which aimed to bring the remote community together in “pride, respect and diversity.”

Broken Hill councillor Darriea Turley said the festival had highlighted the city’s LGBTI community and laid the myth of Priscilla to rest: “The Broken Hill portrayed, where gay people were abused, is over. The bus is buried and we are in a new era.”

A highlight of the festival was February’s Drive the Rainbow, a colourful convoy through the streets.

“Drive the Rainbow allowed everyone in Broken Hill to see the town’s LGBTI community and say ‘that’s my neighbour, that’s my friend’,” Cr Turley said.

Brad Scanlan, one of Broken Hill’s most senior police officers, echoed the sentiments. A former police gay and lesbian liaison officer in Sydney, he moved to Broken Hill with his partner three years ago.

“I have never seen anything like the Festival of Respect. It’s just been awesome,” Scanlan told the Star Observer.

“The festival has shown that while Broken Hill isn’t San Francisco, it’s still a very accepting place. The worst I’ve experienced here is indifference.”

Scanlan says one of the main legacies of the festival is many of the city’s public agencies now working together.

“Existing services in the area, such as the police, teachers associations, health and legal centres, have ensured everyone knows they’re available to all the different groups who live here, including LGBTI people,” he said.

As reported by the Star Observer last week, neither Broken Hill’s mayor or its two MPs attended any festival events.

Far West Community Legal Centre chief executive Tracey Willow, who is a major backer of the festival, said while this was disappointing, this year’s event was just the beginning.

“We’ve shown we have a voice and we need to keep showing that and ensure we have more access to services through cooperation and collaboration.”

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