Rural Australians are pushing further for acceptance of LGBTQI people, and the township of Kempsey, located 420 kilometres north of Sydney, is no exception.

The third annual ‘It’s OK on The Macleay’ festival, which aims to celebrate and support local LGBTQI people, will kick off at 10am today, Sunday 22 September at Kempsey’s Riverside Park. 

Located on the Macleay River, the cattle and dairy country town, spearheaded by community-member Hayley Hoskins, started holding It’s OK on The Macleay in response to the 2017 marriage equality plebiscite. 

In the lead-up to the plebiscite, Hoskins was shocked at the intolerance that swept through the Kempsey community. In response, Hoskins decided to celebrate the queer community in Kempsey and ensure support was provided during the testing time.

“The purpose of the event was that I was seeing this, and I thought it was hurtful, and I was offended and I was angry,” Hoskins said. 

“What actually prompted the event was the drag group, Dream Time Divas. One of the guys is originally from Kempsey and came down from his office in Kempsey and all in the windows of his car were all of these hateful messages.

“It really hurt, it hurt me a lot. It was like people were saying ‘your son didn’t matter’. So, I really had to show that there is a lot of support and love and acceptance by a lot of people in the community.”

However, Hoskins additionally create the It’s OK on The Macleay celebration in honour of the Baylin’s Gift Foundation, also established by Hoskins in 2016, after her son Baylin took his own life. 

Baylin Hoskins, a queer man, struggled with his mental health and sexual identity since he was 16, after coming-out to the Kempsey township and losing many of his high school friends in the process. 

Hoskins believes Baylin carried a great shame on his shoulders and that his mental health was fraught with spiralling illness. This illness was only compounded when Baylin’s uncle took his own life, leaving behind a wife and four children. Baylin was only 17 at the time.

Less than three weeks before his 19th birthday, Baylin also took his own life, shortly after starting his university studies in Newcastle.

“I never understood why being gay was an issue for Baylin because that was never an issue for us,” she said.

“When the plebiscite started I really started to get a feel of how it must have felt for Baylin. All this negativity and hatred. It was offensive to me, and I wasn’t even gay.

“One of the big things about It’s OK on The Macleay is bring your kids. This is a family event and this is how we teach our kids acceptance and diversity. It brings children up in a community of difference and acceptance. 

“We are no Broken Heel Festival, yet! But we are working on it.”

This year’s It’s OK on The Macleay will feature live entertainment, a free BBQ, lived experience speakers, stalls, community organisations, mechanical bull riding, face painting, a blow-up obstacle course and a dog show. 

Auslan interpreters will also be provided throughout the day. 

It’s OK on The Macleay will run from 10am to 3pm today (Sunday, 22 September) at Kempsey Riverside Park.

For more information, visit https://kempseyfamilies.org.au/its-ok-on-the-macleay or the group’s Facebook page: facebook.com/itsokonthemacleay.

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