MELBOURNE’S western suburbs might have had a spotted reputation at one stage, but over the past decade councils in the area and local residents have helped the west’s LGBTI communities thrive.

Nicholas Karageorge grew up in Essendon, and when he finally worked up the courage to come out in high school he found more acceptance than he expected.

“I did have to defend myself a lot in the earlier years but as soon as I just came out, it was like I was respected for being honest and suddenly my bullies left me alone or were actually nice to me,” he said.

“Sometimes I wonder if I was being targeted because they knew I was hiding something. It was actually the complete opposite of what I thought would happen.”

Although Karageorge left Essendon for the perhaps more explicitly gay-friendly suburb of Brunswick East, he thinks the idea of “gay ghettos” is breaking down, through a combination of broader LGBTI acceptance and the rise of gay dating apps.

The changes in the west aren’t just reflective of broader social trends, though — council programs around social and cultural events have helped increase LGBTI visibility and acceptance. For example, a number of councils in the area now partner with the Midsumma festival to put on a whole suite of events specifically for local LGBTI communities.

Gary Ferguson has been living in Moonee Ponds for eight years, and has seen things start to change. His vision is that one day people will be able to walk down the street without any fear of recrimination or harassment.

He’s become involved in an LGBTI network formed by the City of Moonee Valley, and thinks his local council is doing good work in proactively consulting with LGBTI people in the area is making a difference.

“What I think it does is that it breaks down the stereotypes,” Ferguson said.

“I think what it says to people who are from most populations is that this is an inclusive community, and that it’s okay for you to be here.”

Rising house prices in Melbourne and Sydney may be pushing more and more out of the inner-city, but he doesn’t think that’s all bad: “I don’t believe people in the suburbs are worse off, I don’t believe that at all.”

Trans woman Lisa Mullin also lives in Moonee Ponds, and while she acknowledged people living further out could lead to isolation for some LGBTI people, she argued the push away from the inner-city could have positive effects from inclusion across the board.

“The more spread out we are and the more people that get to know us as just ‘people’ the more acceptance there is,” she said.

In the nearby City of Hobsons Bay, Asiel Adnan has been heavily involved in building and supporting LGBTI communities. Adnan has sat on the council’s LGBTIQ Advisory Committee, working with people like intersex former mayor Tony Briffa to raise the profile and visibility of LGBTI people.

He hopes advances in social attitudes will help LGBTI people feel accepted anywhere, but worried progress might be slower for trans* and intersex people.

“One day, perhaps, we can live in any place of our choosing without fearing negative repercussions,” he said.

“As I see it, the breakdown of the gay ‘ghettos’ is the beginning of that process.”

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