Group of LGBTI elders to walk the runway in a Melbourne fashion parade

Group of LGBTI elders to walk the runway in a Melbourne fashion parade
Image: Dr Catherine Barrett (left) at the Coming Back Out Ball 2017. Image: Dean Arcuri.

A group of LGBTI elders are set to take part in a Melbourne fashion parade next month, in a move to challenge ageism and promote safe spaces for LGBTI people in older communities.

The parade – titled Spunk – will be hosted as part of the Embolden Conference, a two-day festival run by Celebrate Ageing that will bring together leaders and researchers to discuss issues around ageing and aged care, both within the LGBTI community and outside of it.

Founder of Celebrate Ageing, Dr Catherine Barrett, said the parade will feature models over the age of 65 and will help to highlight the idea that beauty is an attitude.

“I always try to facilitate events that focus on LGBTI elders, and we need to keep doing that,” she told the Star Observer.

“But alongside that we also need to queer up senior spaces. We need to create safe spaces for LGBTI elders in broader events, and this fashion parade is the perfect example.

“By bringing LGBTI elders into that space, we’re letting people know that LGBTI elders don’t just have a place in LGBTI communities, they also have a place in communities of older people.”

Gay Melbourne-based artist Douglas McManus will design clothes for the elders to wear, before guiding them down the runway during Spunk.

He believes styling LGBTI elders is an opportunity to show that when it comes to self-expression through fashion, age is not a limitation.

“Clothing can transcend a person’s self-imposed notions of who or what is beautiful, and remind us that beautiful is an attitude,” he said.

Barrett adds that often the narrative around elders tends to focus on their history, rather than where they are at present.

“This fashion parade is not about history, it’s about now,” she said.

“And LGBTI elders will be in that space in a way that’s confident and sassy. They’re not asking for permission or respect, they’re saying this is who I am – love it or leave it.”

As well as the fashion parade, Embolden will also see age discrimination commissioner Dr Kay Patterson discuss the importance of place and factors that displace elders including abuse, poverty, and discrimination.

A new resource titled Rainbow Makers will also be launched, which explores the story of an 82-year-old lesbian who experienced sexuality-based discrimination in her aged care facility.

The fashion parade will take place on the first day of the conference festival, and will feature elders as well as other groups of older people modelling different runway categories.

“If we want to engage community in making change happen, we better make it interesting,” Barrett said.

The Embolden Conference festival will take place at the St Kilda Town Hall between October 9 and 10. For more information and to register, visit:

Related reading: Meet the Aussie activist who came out as non-binary at 76

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