Adam GilchristThrough community events taking place across the country, Social Inclusion Week encourages Australians to reach out to people in the community who feel isolated and excluded, a feeling many in the LGBTI community can understand.

This year legendary Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist has signed on to talk about sport and inclusion as one of the event’s ambassadors, and he told the Star Observer about how the event could reach out to people excluded from sport through homophobia.

“If people at the upper level of any organisation or any sport are making naïve, uninformed, uneducated comments I can see how that would turn people away and leave them feeling somewhat dejected and isolated,” Gilchrist said.

“So I think part of Social Inclusion Week is about trying to identify what they are, who they are, why they feel that way and trying to break that down.”

Gilchrist said he believes in the potential for sport to help marginalised people feel included. He cited gay rugby legend Ian Roberts’ coming out in 1995 as a turning point for Australian sport.

“I remember right back to Ian Roberts in rugby league, that was a watershed moment for sport in Australia… I can’t imagine what the step is for the individual to make, but that did a lot for the perception and the reality.”

Social Inclusion Week is the brainchild of musician and Order of Australia member Jonathon Welch, best known for his work directing The Choir of Hard Knocks, made up of homeless and disadvantaged people living in Melbourne.

Welch told the Star Observer his experiences as a gay man living in Sydney helped shape his understanding of the importance of social inclusion.

“I lived in Sydney for 18 years, and I can say that was one of the loneliest, most difficult experiences of my life, as a gay man as well, in not really having any sense of belonging and any understanding of what community was about,” he said.

“You hear that world talked about a lot, and it wasn’t until in 1997 I became musical director of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir I really started to understand what the word community was about.”

Jonathan WelchWelch worried about the Abbott Government’s recent disbanding of the Social Inclusion Board and the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness and the implications for some of Australia’s most marginalised people.

“It’s almost like, out of sight out of mind. If we don’t have the language there, if we don’t have these portfolios then there’s no door to go and knock on,” he said, arguing it had only reaffirmed his belief in the need for Social Inclusion Week.

“We at grass roots level can’t rely on government to make sure that we have a very strong community fabric that binds us together and supports us through very difficult times. Because I think we’re coming in to some very difficult times. So I think it’s more important than ever that people take to opportunity to get to know the people around them.”

Social Inclusion Week takes place from 23 November – 1 December, with events across the country to encourage Australians to connect to people feeling isolated and excluded.

The week kicks off with a free concert from Welch’s new choir Absolutely Everybody and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Melbourne at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl on Saturday, 23 November.

Visit www.socialinclusionweek.com.au to register an event or find out what’s happening locally.

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