Each month we’ll champion two amazing drag queens, DJs, or community heroes in the gay scene. This week: Ann-Marie Calilhanna, the Star Observer’s long-time photographer who has spent more than a decade documenting Australia’s LGBTI community.

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What do you love about Australia’s LGBTI community?

How strong and resilient we are. We have had to develop a thick skin to protect us from homophobia. As much as we are diverse and different, when it counts we come together and fight for what is right, and when we do, the energy is so powerful.

 What motivates you to get involved?

I know it’s important to document our history. If we don’t do it, no-one else will. There have been times in our history where we have been in the shadows and if it wasn’t for the efforts of people before us, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s vital that we remember previous challenges and the discrimination that was put upon our elders.

I feel like I’m in the middle of this important intergenerational shift – being able to know and be connected to our elders and watching equality unfolding right now, you can really start to see the potential of full equality in the future.

What area do we need to focus on the most at the moment?

We have just spent many years and a lot of our focus on marriage equality, but we still have a long way to go until we achieve true equality. I worry about the religious exemptions bill which is being debated soon and how that will enable further discrimination of our communities. I think we need to also focus on the rights of our trans and intersex brothers and sisters, and we need to look after our older generations.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I usually wake up surrounded by my beautiful cats (and my girlfriend), it’s the best! I spend a lot of time at home processing photos (and eating too much chocolate) that I have taken the night or day before. Most people don’t realise how much work there is to do in processing photos and making sure that the images reflect the true tone and feel of the event. Each day is quite different, I will go to maybe two or three events and speak to maybe one hundred people.

Who do you see as an LGBTI hero in the community?

Anyone who volunteers their time to lead or guide our organisations deserves that title, they often go unnoticed. It isn’t an easy job and you will never be able to please everyone.

Favourite LGBTI venue?

Any venue that has great lighting and laser lights is a favourite. I love that we have several LGBTI venues but there is never enough of them… it’s important we have our safe places where we can meet and be ourselves.

Favourite LGBTI anthem?

Atomic by Blondie and Sing Hallelujah by Dr Alban.

Best Mardi Gras moment?

Oh this is a tough one. I love that Mardi Gras is so much more than just the parade. The festival includes arts, sports, film, shows, dining, and family events over several weeks and that’s just scratching the surface! It’s really impossible to pick just one moment as all events are fabulous and so important.

The community really comes out and puts on such a fabulous show for all of us. There’s always a special moment when I’m looking through the thousands of photos I’ve taken days earlier (at a much slower pace, of course) and I feel l like I’m reliving the magic again. It gives me goosebumps.

Advice for young LGBTI people?

You matter, you are seen, and you are accepted. Live your true and authentic self, you will always find like-minded people who will become your friends and family.

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