Supporting the LGBTQI community is not just about raising the rainbow flag on the council building, says Hobson Bay councillor Tony Briffa. As the world’s first openly intersex elected official and Mayor, Briffa believes councils “can and should support LGBTQI people.”
Briffa, was born with Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome and came out over two decades ago with the aim to highlight the treatment of intersex children in Australia. Briffa was first elected to the Hobsons Bay City Council in 2008, went on to be the world’s first openly intersex Mayor in 2011. Presently a councillor, Briffa is standing for re-election from the Cherry Lake ward.
“Having LGBTQI candidates and councillors helps break down barriers by raising awareness. It shows that we are everywhere and are a part of each and every community in Victoria,” says Briffa.
“It’s been an honour being able to support my LGBTQI community since 2008, in addition to increasing awareness of intersex people as the first openly intersex mayor. Since being elected Melbourne’s west has become a partner of the Midsumma Festival, holding many events for the local LGBTQI community, and Hobsons Bay was the second council in Australia to formally resolve to support Marriage Equality. We also participate in the Pride March and integrated LGBTQI programs in our community centres and libraries. I am so proud to have been able to make that happen!”
Over a decade of being an ‘Out’ person in public office has not been without its challenges and sometimes the hate has escalated to real danger. Briffa has been the target of smear campaigns and threats of physical violence. The threats intensified after being elected mayor and a local resident started stalking and harassing Briffa.
“Victoria Police were great at providing me with protection and seeking an Intervention Order from a stalker that threatened to kill me. It hasn’t always been nice, but I focus on the positives and being able to make a difference to the community I love,” says Briffa.
The three-time councillor is excited to see so many out LGBTQI candidates standing for the Victorian council elections this October. “Gone are the days when we have to hide who we are. Openly celebrate who you are and enjoy the experience. Serving the local community is a great honour.”
According to Briffa there are many ways councils can support their LGBTQI residents.
“I strongly believe all councils should have an LGBTQI Advisory Committee so that they can discuss local issues, services and programs. Serving our community is more than just raising the rainbow flag outside the council chambers, it’s about everything from providing LGBTQI materials in libraries, ensuring services are inclusive and heteronormativity isn’t assumed, that trans and gender diverse people are also served (including in things like club rooms and public toilets), and that maternal child health services are aware of intersex variations and peer support referral services. There are many ways councils can and should support LGBTQI people,” says Briffa.
As a role model for queer people in Australia and across the world, Briffa’s message is that LGBTQI people are a valuable part of society.
“I hope I have been a role model for girls, intersex people, lesbians, gender non-conforming and migrant people too. My message to them is that we are a valuable part of society and while we may have to overcome barriers, we can do it. Be true to yourself and your values, and be persistent.”