Support from the LGBTI community in North-East Victoria has helped drive the unlikely campaign by independent Cathy McGowan to a win in the federal seat of Indi, a campaign pitting her against sitting Liberal Party MP Sophie Mirabella.
While the electorate has been called today for McGowan, the seat was still in doubt more than a week after the federal election, leaving the traditionally conservative region’s LGBTI community hopeful for a win by the pro-marriage equality independent.
Kelly Dwyer, a former convenor of local LGBTI organisation Hume Phoenix, told the Star Observer many LGBTI people got behind the McGowan campaign.
“Social media was the biggest way for us to get the word out there that there was an alternative in the North East, someone who actually supports GLBTI issues and same-sex marriage,” Dwyer said.
She explained part of McGowan’s success came from extensive community consultation on issues like marriage equality.
“I think everyone that has been supporting Cathy, they’re just glad that someone’s out there actually asking their opinion,” said Dwyer.
“To actually have someone like Cathy go out and say that it is an issue in the area, and to have someone who’s supportive, it’s very positive for our community and it’s been very much embraced.”
Mirabella angered many in the LGBTI community both in Indi and across Australia with a controversial leafleting campaign indicating McGowan’s support for marriage equality and featuring a child’s face along with the words:
“But man-woman marriage is special because ‘I have a right to my mum and dad.’”
Dwyer said the leaflet prompted a backlash against Mirabella in Indi, and was one of many reasons the community threw their support behind McGowan’s campaign.
She is also one of many in the local LGBTI community who believe McGowan’s success is representative of a shift in attitudes towards LGBTI issues in country Victoria. Dwyer said a marriage equality rally held in Albury last year drew huge crowds, representing a broad section of the community.
“People who’ve come in off the land, people who are of a much older generation who, traditionally I guess we assumed they were against same-sex marriage and any other GLBTI-related issues. But we certainly found out that’s not the case,” Dwyer said.
“North-East Victoria is quite open-minded as it turns out. It’s great to see that we can have someone who reflects those values in our community at a parliamentary level.”
The community’s shift in attitudes came to the fore last weekend as the local town of Yackandandah celebrated the Spring Migration festival, an annual LGBTI event now in its ninth year.
Festival organiser and local business owner Gary Hayward told the Star Observer this year’s festival was a huge success, in large part because the whole community has started to get involved in the event.
“Spring Migration this year was attended by not only the gay community, but the local netball girls had their grand final so they came, the football boys also came along. We have a charity bash, which is 150 motorbike riders, all very straight and macho, and they came up, and they all made the night even more magical because everyone got along together so well,” Hayward said.
“It’s embraced by most of the community now. It’s taken nine years, but step-by-step.”
The seat’s outcome came down to the wire, gluing the country to the official tally for an agonising 11 days. But Hayward said the people of Indi were good at being patient, explaining:
“Country people are quite used to waiting.”