The outback town of Broken Hill might be one of the best places in Australia to be queer, but it hasn’t always been that way. Jesse Jones spoke with two athletes turned cabbies about changing attitudes from behind the wheel.
Pentathlete and footballer Kirsti Miller and her partner Nikki Phillips became cab drivers in the New South Wales desert town of Broken Hill after they were both ousted from their local sporting teams.
“I didn’t know who he was,” says Miller.
“This huge, massive fellow gets in the front, and as soon as he gets in, he leans out the passenger window and yells out to all the other guys, ‘Hey, I’ve got Kirsti Miller the fucking tranny driving me, ha ha!'”
Exercising admirable restraint, Miller used the trip as a teachable moment.
“I told him that what he said was very hurtful, those stereotypes,” she says.
“I told him about what I’ve done with my life, and after about ten minutes his attitude changed when he realised that I wasn’t some bimbo, and I did have a life other than being transgender and had achieved a lot.
“You could just see the change as he became respectful, and he said he was really sorry—I got a really good tip from him as well!
“I’ve never had trouble with a member of that football club since that day.”
The incident started as one of the worst encounters Miller had had as a driver, but it was far from her first in Broken Hill.
Moving to the town after a period of homelessness in Sydney, she was the first woman to play AFL following gender transition. After being outed in 2013, other players began abusing her on the field.
Local clubs refused to register her to play, and she was subjected to transphobic vilification by the community.
Broken Hill famously featured in the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and in one scene the town’s residents vandalise the drag queens’ tour bus with a vicious anti-gay slogan.
Miller says that while the incident in the film was fictional, the hatred of LGBTI people at that time—and for years after—was all too real.
“I couldn’t leave my house for days on end,” she says.
“My house was getting hit with rocks. All I wanted to do was play football and walk down the street.
“What people don’t understand about small country towns is that if you’re outed from sport, you’re outed from the community.”
Phillips similarly endured discrimination as Miller’s partner, as the former Australian soccer representative found herself suddenly forced out of her own club of 13 years.
“For around ten years I was captain, the best player, and a life member,” says Phillips.
When Miller wanted to play for the same soccer club she was refused, and told that other players were “uncomfortable” with a trans woman and would have left if she joined. Phillips quit over their discrimination.
“They just let me go,” she says.
After facing dehumanising and terrifying abuse, and losing their places in the sports they loved, Miller and Phillips chose to become cab drivers. The work has allowed them to meet their neighbours, and gradually win hearts and change attitudes about gay and trans issues.
From a toxic, transphobic environment just five years ago, the town has turned around to embrace diversity, and Miller and Phillips have become beloved local figures.
“It’s been a big change,” says Phillips.
“Every single fare has broken down a barrier,” adds Miller.
“I don’t ever get angry with them, but I educate them.
“People got to see that we’re actually good people, and started to like us. Slowly but surely, things started changing.
“We’re just Kirsti and Nikki now—we’re the favourite cabbies in Broken Hill.”
These days, if out-of-towners try to pick on Miller, they’re likely to be pulled up by locals and told to respect “our Kirsti”. She says the Silver City is now more like the Rainbow City.
After years of effort to turn around attitudes in Broken Hill about LGBTI people, Miller and Phillips have recently been able to return to football. Their club now has formal policies of inclusion for minorities, including Indigenous players as well as LGBTI people.
“We’re treated like family there now,” says Phillips.
“It’s great to be playing again.”
“There was not one incident of negativity,” Miller adds.
“Broken Hill has seen a massive paradigm shift since 2013. It’s now without doubt the safest place in the world for a transgender person.
“This is my greatest achievement in my life, to win over a town. I’m safe and I’m accepted.”