It’s a stroke of luck and a miracle that I’m now alive and well and successful: that was not the foreseeable future when I was younger.

I grew up in Nambucca Heads. I had a really troubled and quite violent experience at school. I was constantly bullied pretty much everywhere except at home. It was both physical and emotional, and it seemed always to be homophobic -“ but it started before I even knew what that meant.

I used to get called poofter and faggot regularly by older boys at school. That would have been from about third or fourth class in primary school, right until I left that school at the end of Year 8. I was a very sad, very troubled, suicidal kind of teenager basically.

I wasn’t open about the bullying at all with my parents. It’s only something that I have discussed with them in the past years.

When I was about 14 we moved back to Sydney, and I started going to school in Seven Hills and then later in Pennant Hills. There was some bullying in Sydney but much less than in Nambucca Heads. But schooling was always a horrible experience for me, so I left in Year 10 after I got my School Certificate in 1983.

I started working and creating my own life. I did a number of unskilled jobs, from working in McDonald’s to doing voice-overs in shopping centres and department stores.

I pulled some money together and a few years later got into sales and I was good at that. I then got into advertising and then became a publisher and launched a couple of magazines.

About a year ago I started out in the field of entertainment promotion. Bringing Jimmy Somerville out to Sydney in February for next year’s Mardi Gras festival is my first project.

Through the whole process of trying to work out what acts appealed to us and what we thought there was a market for, Jimmy was a performer whom I was very passionate about.

I realised what kind of influence he had on me. His 1984 song Smalltown Boy was about a young gay who had to leave his country town because of discrimination, which is basically what happened to me. He didn’t run away from being gay at all: he stepped right up to the plate.

Of course, putting on the show is about entertaining people and having fun. But the subtext for me is that hopefully plenty of people will come along because this guy’s lyrics are about being able to have gay love.

I want to use the opportunity of re-educating people -“ not only the gay community but also raising some of these issues again on the national stage.

I think that’s what people like Jimmy can do: reinvigorate debate and thought. And hopefully it plays some role in reducing prejudice. I would really hope that Jimmy’s story is still relevant if you’re a young gay boy in Wagga Wagga or Bathurst or Nambucca Heads.

The bigger picture for all of this and the reason I titled the show Evolve is that I think we are in a really dangerous time in history.

I would argue that we have seen our human rights massively violated in the last three years. We have possibly the most conservative governments we have ever had in power here and in the United States. Without being melodramatic about it, I think also as a gay community we have become somewhat complacent.

I look at myself now and my friends -“ we can live in our nice eastern suburbs homes with our water views and have a lifestyle where you can be with your partner and not experience any direct prejudice any longer. But it is such a limited number of people on the planet who get to enjoy and experience that.

So I think it’s a pretty selfish thing to kind of give up on human rights or gay rights or social rights -“ which I think are all one and the same -“ when many people around the world don’t have that chance.

Hence the name Evolve: human rights and gay rights are still evolving, it’s not a done deal.

Interview by Ian Gould

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