ALTHOUGH I have lived in the Parramatta area since I was 11, it wasn’t until I became a journalist with the Parramatta Advertiser in 2011 that I realised the region is quite gay-friendly and progressive.

I quickly learned that Parramatta City Council is a pioneer of sorts for other western Sydney councils. It embraces and celebrates everything that makes it so culturally and demographically diverse — not just the typical middle class families.

However, I acknowledge that being able to hold your partner’s hand in public is not something I would do without second-guessing. And yes, there’s no forgetting the infamous market stall incident in 2012 that involved a former Lord Mayor and Twenty10.

But compared to the 90s and even as recent as the early 2000s, I believe the Parramatta area has come a long way. The stereotypes that locals used to harbour about gay people are not as prevalent as it used to be. Things are certainly improving in my opinion, and it’s improving quickly.

Parramatta City Council — along with many other organisations — continues to support the Parramatta Queer Forum group, the annual Parramatta Pride Picnic, International Day Against Homophobia and even the Queer Screen mini-film festival at Riverside Theatres.

These, on top of the range of multicultural and arts groups and events the area is home to, make me appreciate living in what I believe is one of the most diverse areas of Sydney — and it really isn’t that far from the city, to be honest.

Our community may be small in numbers — according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) only 0.4 per cent of couples in Parramatta are gay compared to 8.8 per cent across Sydney’s inner-city, inner-west and eastern suburbs — but I continue to witness it become increasingly visible. In other parts of western and south-western Sydney, the ABS shows that LGBTI residents have increased by 25 per cent.

I am not in any position to say Sydney is starting to follow Melbourne’s footsteps in that its “gay ghettos” are beginning to break down and more LGBTI people being pushed out to the suburbs.

But if that’s indeed the case, there is a definite silver lining: the more of us there out in the suburbs and the more that locals know us as just “normal” (whatever normal happens to be), then the more acceptance there is and the more we can embrace our diversity more freely.

And you know what? I am quite content living out here.

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