As hundreds of sexuality and gender diverse teenagers arrived at a recent same-sex formal in Melbourne, forty older LGBTI ‘angels’ stood outside waiting to welcome them.

They donned silver wings and open arms in an effort to ensure the younger attendees felt safe and were aware of the community support they had behind them.

One of the ‘angels’, Jo Hirst, said it was important for the teenagers to see their elders happy and smiling back at them.

“There were rainbow families, big bears, and here they are – as happy adults,” she told the Star Observer.

“I’ve had a lot of gay, lesbian, and trans adults contact me in tears to say how touched they were and how lucky these kids are to be growing up in a different world.

 “It’s important for every generation to know there are older people in the community who have gone through what they have and are there for them.”

This warm show of solidarity came amidst the recent Safe Schools debate, that saw a number of proposed cuts as well as a confirmation by Education Minister Simon Birmingham that the program would not receive federal funding beyond 2017.

Hirst, who recently wrote a children’s book highlighting trans and gender diverse children, worries about the damaging effect the debate is having on LGBTI youth.

“What’s happening in the media is harming the children who are hearing it, even the little ones,” she said.

“I’ve tried to protect my son from the media, so he doesn’t even know that there’s transphobia out there”

“The other day he asked why some people didn’t like my book and my heart fell through the floor – but for all the kids that went to the formal, they certainly would’ve heard everything homophobic and transphobic in the media recently.”

In light of this Hirst said being there as an ‘angel’ was one of the best times she’s ever had.

As the teenagers arrived there was also camp pop music playing from a truck, so the attendees were also greeted by music from The Village People and Kylie Minogue.

“For me it was very special because it’ll be my son’s turn when he grows up, and to see all of the children feeling comfortable and safe to be themselves made me feel so warm inside,” she said.

The idea to have angels outside the formal was pitched by Victoria’s Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Ro Allen, who was inspired by a similar event that took place to protect those at the funeral in the US from the Westboro Baptist Church.

The formal was organised by LGBTI youth organisation Minus18, who helped to develop the Safe Schools’ All of Us resource for secondary schools.

Chief Executive of Minus18 Micah Scott said it was wonderful to have LGBTI elders outside the event as a positive presence in the event that protestors showed up.

“We’re very mindful that the work we do is only made possible through the decades of fighting our LGBTI elders have done on our behalf,” he told the Star Observer.

“They’ve gone through similar transitions in their lives when they were younger and unsure of themselves.

“The angels themselves were an idea created from something negative, so despite it coming from something negative it ended up being really positive – it’s about giving those 600 young people a space where they can celebrate themselves.”

 

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