Hang Vo was seven when she arrived with her family as part of the first wave of Vietnamese people who came by boat to seek asylum in Australia. It wasn’t until she was in university that Vo said she started noticing that she was different to others – Vietnamese, a refugee and a lesbian woman.
The Struggle To Fit In
Vo recalled the struggle to fit in. “I grew up in Springvale which is very multicultural. Over 90 % of the kids at my school had a first language that was not English. We were different, yet the same,” said Vo.
Later, at university as well at various workplaces, Vo became very adept at hiding her true self to fit in.
“In Australia, we didn’t have an inclusive culture where diversity is really valued. For the most part, I tried really hard to compensate for the fact that I come from these backgrounds – that I’m a gay woman, a refugee, and I came from a working class poor family background,” said Vo.
‘Differences Are Seen As Deficits’
This attitude informed her career in the nonprofit sector working on issues related to youth, women, refugees and CALD communities . Vo is currently CEO of Whitelion Youth – an organisation working with disadvantaged youth. In 2017 during the marriage equality vote in Australia Vo decided that she had to engage more with the LGBTQI community and subsequently joined the board for the upcoming Pride Centre.
“We as a society see differences as more of a deficit, rather than a strength,” said Vo, adding, “We see them as minority groups or vulnerable groups – whether it’s people of color, trans people or people living with a disability.”.
“Each of us have got many parts of who we are… that’s why intersectionality is so important, if we want to drive and, and create a genuinely inclusive society,” said Vo, who carried these same values to her leadership role at the Pride Centre – Australia’s first purpose-built and the world’s second largest Pride centre.
Creating A Safe And Inclusive Culture At The Pride Centre
“At the Pride Center, we are really committed to creating a safe and inclusive culture where people belong. We don’t want people to feel like they have to fit in. We need to shift away from the sense of tolerance, and even acceptance and actually embrace and celebrate differences. We want to create a safe, inclusive and a permanent home for LGBTQI+ communities, while also being inclusive of allies.”
As one of the faces of the Pride Centre, Vo also has her job cut out for her. The immediate challenge, Vo said, was to reopen in a COVID-safe manner and meet expectations of diverse stakeholders. We are very excited to reopen and welcome everyone. The longer term challenge is to ensure that the Pride centre is sustainable, including repaying a $10 million loan.
“Our vision is to ensure that we create long term sustainability. We want to ensure that we are really prudent in the way that we run the organisation and we apply a really good business lens to it. Ultimately, the Pride Centre is a community asset, if we are not sustainable, we cannot keep being a hub for the community for generations to come,” added Vo.