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A VOCAL and proud advocate for Brisbane’s LGBTI and Indigenous communities, Leslie “Les” West, is being remembered as a kind-hearted, generous and empowering figure following his recent untimely death.
[showads ad=MREC]A familiar figure to many at Brisbane LGBTI rallies who was always draped in the Aboriginal and rainbow flags, West, 45, had not always been at ease with his sexuality but later learnt to embrace who he was and use his story to help others.
Speaking to the Star Observer, close friend Tracey Lee McKellar said West was an outspoken advocate for both LGBTI and Indigenous rights.
“From his childhood Les understood the importance of fighting for what you believe in. He was always very proud of his culture and Aboriginal identity, but had struggled with his own sexual identity,” McKellar said.
“So when he acknowledged that in his own heart, he wanted to help empower others with learning to love yourself — without fear, anger or guilt.
“Les was a very well-respected man and more like a member of our family. Although we are not related, he always referred to my dad as Uncle Carney and I loved when he would refer to me as his cousin and out of love and respect for Les, my children refer to him as Uncle Les.”
A Moorawarri and Kooma man from Cunnamulla in south-central Queensland, West’s ancestry was an important part of his life and his activism – something he learnt about from McKellar’s grandmother who was herself a tireless advocate for Indigenous rights.
“From contact with my grandmother, Hazel McKellar — Aunty Hazel to Les — through his youth, he would have learned much about advocating for Aboriginal rights and culture,” McKellar said.
“Les and his siblings would visit and spend time with my grandmother who taught them about Aboriginal culture.”
Despite some challenges faced at an early age, West was able to be reunited with his family and culture soon after.
“In 1975, Les and his siblings were taken by what is now child safety and placed in a foster home together,” McKellar said.
“They were in foster care for 12 months before their Nan travelled down on the Westlander (the train service from Cunnamulla to Brisbane) and took them home.”
West is also remembered as a talented musician.
“Les was always a loving person — a kind and generous heart, smiling, always respectful and a very talented musician. He could pick up any instrument,” McKellar said.
“Some of my greatest memories are jam sessions at my grandmother’s home in Cunnamulla with my Dad, my Uncle Dan, my brother, Les and Noelie playing — guitars, drums, and singing.”
With his recent passing, McKellar believes Brisbane has lost “their strongest warrior”.
“He believed so strongly in fighting for Aboriginal and LGBTI rights that nothing could sway him,” she said.
“A friendly, approachable, kind-hearted, generous and respectful man. My sister has heard that Les interacted with everyone.
“The Brisbane community will miss their strongest warrior.”[showads ad=FOOT]