While the world was busy last week with the US elections, a small but sure rainbow wave was shooting across Victoria as the Victorian Electoral Commission announced local council election results in batches. Ultimately 29 openly LGBTQI candidates were elected to 20 local councils across the state, out of the 77 councils that had elections in October.
Over 132 openly LGBTQI candidates had contested the council elections this year in Victoria. With 29 elected, this is the best showing ever for the community – at the last election in 2016 around 11 openly LGBTQI candidates had made it to the council.
The Moreland and Yarra city councils top the list with each electing four openly LGBTQI councillors. Melbourne, Moonee Valley and Stonnington follow with two out councillors each. LGBTQI councillors will also make their presence felt in the councils of Ballarat, Baw Baw Shire, Buloke, Colac Otway Shire, Darebin, Greater Geelong, Hepburn, Hobsons Bay, Hume, Kingston, Manningham, Maroondah, Nillumbik Shire and Wangaratta – each with one out councillor.
“I think it’s so important for LGBTQI people to run for local government, and I’m really pleased that there’s going to be a large number of LGBTQI councillors across the state for the next term of the council,” Polly Morgan, a first-time councillor elected to the inner city Stonnington council, told Star Observer.
“I think we need to particularly look at how we can support younger LGBTQI people, LGBTQI people who are homeless, and older LGBTQI people who may be needing more support and services, but may be reluctant to ask for this support after decades of dealing with homophobia and prejudice largely on their own,” Morgan added.
Tony Briffa, the world’s first openly intersex Mayor, has been elected for a fourth term from the Hobsons Bay council.
“My re-election means I will continue to raise awareness and break down misconceptions about LGBTQI people while also strongly advocating for appropriate inclusion, services and support for our local LGBTQI community in Hobsons Bay and across the western suburbs,” said Briffa.
For the community, there was a major upset in Stonnington. Openly gay Mayor Steve Stefanopoulos lost his bid to get re-elected for a third time.
Stefanopoulos, a two-time councillor, was Australia’s first and only openly same-sex married mayor. Stonnington, however, still retains its position as an inclusive inner suburb and has elected two out councillors – Polly Morgan (East Ward) and Mike Scott (South Ward).
Stonnington has a large LGBTQI population and was one of the electorates that had the highest number of ‘Yes’ votes in the 2017 Marriage Equality national vote.
“I was pleased to see that almost every elected councillor in Stonnington has signed on to the Rainbow pledge. I’m really looking forward to working with our other councillors to implement the pledge, including setting up an LGBTQI advisory committee and creating an LGBTQI action plan. It’s really important that everyone is treated fairly and with dignity and respect, and I think by having LGBTQI people on council, and as we saw in the previous term with an openly gay mayor, it shows that Stonnington is a diverse and inclusive community where we are all valued for who we are,” said Morgan.
“For starters, the opportunity of creating a hub for all things LGBTQI inclusive on the council website is top of my list. Stonnington, the home of Chapel Street and Commercial Road, was once full of life and excitement and had a thriving LGBTQI inclusive community and scene. I think people are looking for ways to bring that buzz back to our streets,” said Scott. Australia’s first LGBTQI inclusive aged care facility is coming up in Prahran and Scott said he was excited about the opportunity that it would provide for older LGBTQI “to live their lives to the fullest.”
Four out of the nine elected councillors in Yarra are openly LGBTQI, making it a truly Rainbow council in Victoria.
“Yarra is home to a range of wonderfully diverse communities and cultures, and is one of the primary centres for queer business and community in Melbourne, from local queer bookshop Hares & Hyenas, Mollie’s Bar and Diner, to Eagle Leather. That’s why having LGBTQI representation on the council is so important,” said Edward Crossland, Councillor for Yarra Council (Melba ward).
Crossland led the development of the LGBTQI policy for the Greens – a first for a Victorian political party, and was previously Deputy Convenor of youth LGBTQI group Minus18.
“I am looking forward to supporting the necessary steps for Yarra Council to achieve Rainbow Tick accreditation, and explore how council can support, celebrate and promote Yarra as a centre for LGBTQI business and culture bit now and in the future to become a national leader in this area,” said Crossland.
Gabrielle de Vietri, councillor elect from the Langridge ward sees the rainbow victories as a “huge win” for gender equality and the LGBTQI, multicultural and public housing communities. With four out councillors, Gabrielle believes that the community can count on the Yarra city council.
“I’ll be reaching out to our queer businesses, community groups and organisations as the term starts, and I wholeheartedly encourage people to get in touch with me with any concerns, or to share their ideas for a thriving, liveable Yarra for the LGBTQI community,” said Gabrielle.
“I and my fellow Greens councillors will work hard to turn our vision of Moreland into a reality: one of thriving local neighbourhoods, where we celebrate our diversity, and everyone feels welcome, is just a short distance from beautiful parks and open spaces, and can easily get around walking, cycling and on public transport,” councillor-elect Adam Pullford (North East Ward) said. Pullford added that the wins were “people-powered” and that the Greens councillors “will fight for everyday people, not property developers or other vested interests.”
Mark Riley, a long-time queer activist, who won on a Greens ticket, promised that the community will have a strong voice on the council.
“While we won marriage equality in 2018, many people in the community still face discrimination, including people from the trans community. I’ll continue to fight and protect the rights we’ve won so far, and to stand up for the more vulnerable people,” said James Conlan, the third openly gay Green councillor on the council.
Claudia Nguyen, is the fourth openly LGBTQI person on the council and one of the few out gay woman of colour.
“As a young gay woman of colour, I want to be a role model to my community and show that you can embrace your background to be a leader,” said Nguyen.
The city of Melbourne elected two openly gay councillors – Rohan Leppert, the Greens councillor who returns for a third term and first-time councillor Jamal Hakim.
Leppert told Star Observer that he was happy that the Greens preferences allowed Hakim, a former board member of Midsumma, to be elected to the council.
“The next few years are going to be tough for central Melbourne. This is the area of the country hit hardest by the COVID-induced recession, and the council will need to work hard every day to mitigate the human costs of the recession, keep our venues, small businesses and a healthy employment market going. The council has an essential role to play in ensuring that the city is inclusive and prosperous for everyone, and I hope it will act as a bulwark against extensions of police powers and law and order responses in our city,” said Leppert.
The city of Melbourne, however, missed out on electing its first indigenous councillor, with openly gay candidate Professor Marc Mcmillan not winning a place on the council.
The change in councils has been gradual but significant. When third-time councillor Cam Nation first ran for the Moonee Valley City council elections in 2012, the LGBTQI community was not even acknowledged.
“I am particularly proud that the significant amount of work I have put into shaping Moonee Valley into a diverse & inclusive council has resonated with voters. Over the past eight years we have evolved from a council that didn’t even acknowledge the LGBTQI community in our Council Plan, to a council that now has the theme ‘FAIR’ as one of our key themes in our guiding document MV2040,” said Nation. “We have developed an LGBTQI Action Plan, achieved Rainbow Tick Accreditation, formed adult and youth Rainbow Working Groups, celebrated key days and events in the LGBTQI calendar, and fought hard for Marriage Equality. I am so thrilled as well that having spent the past eight years as the only member of the LGBTQI community to ever be elected at the City of Moonee Valley, I am now joined by another openly LGBTQI councillor.”
Stephen Hart, the openly gay councillor from Coloc Otway Shire had been elected for a record fifth term. Hart sees his re-election as an opportunity “to ensure that our LGBTQI community has appropriate input into council’s service delivery. Climate issues, COVID recovery and improved social housing are other priorities this term.”
The Kingston council had around eight openly LGBTQI candidates in the fray, but will have only one out councillor Steve Staikos, who was re-elected for a fourth term
“It was great to see so many candidates in Kingston take the rainbow pledge, and several LGBTQI identifying candidates put themselves forward for election in Kingston,” said Staikos, adding that he is as excited and enthusiastic as when he was first elected to the council in 2008. The councillor said his plans include an expansion of the council’s Midsumma program and reinforcing support structures like QIK – Queer in Kingston.
Many of the council’s may have only one openly LGBTQI councillor, but that has not stopped them from drawing up big plans.
“As an out and proud bisexual in my community it really speaks to the acceptance of LGBTQI people in Clunes,” said Tessa Halliday, who has been elected as the new councillor for Cameron Ward in Hepburn Shire. “We still have a lot of work to do however and I am looking forward to helping develop a LGBTIQI strategy, action plan and advisory committee to ensure all our LGBTQI residents feel welcome, accepted and supported. My other priorities include social housing, sustainability, community engagement policies and a thorough planning scheme amendment.”
Greens councillor-elect to the Manningham City Council Tomas Lightbody is raring to go as well, and attributes his win to the hard work and talking to the community about their needs.
“I can’t wait to work with council and the community to take real action on climate change, boost our active transport infrastructure and fix our waste management system,” said Lightbody. “As a member of the LGBTQI community, I know how important representation is both for advancing equality and supporting other young LGBTQI people. I hope I can use my platform to elevate the voices of Manningham’s colourful and diverse LGBTQI community.”
Dave Fuller, who won reelection to the Wangaratta Rural council from the City Ward, said he is keen to continue conversations around LGBTQI issues with his colleagues.
“Particularly in terms of mental health, grit and resilience for younger generations who might be experiencing concerns or situations, like I did 25 years ago, when acceptance across society was at a lower level,” said Fuller.
Know your LGBTQI councillors
Melbourne – Rohan Leppert & Jamal Hakim
Yarra – Gabrielle de Vietri (Langridge ward), Edward Crossland (Melba ward), Claudia Nguyen (Melba ward) & Bridgid O’Brien (Nicholls ward)
Moreland – Adam Pulford (North East ward), Sue Bolton (North East ward), James Conlan (South ward) & Mark Riley – (South ward)
Stonnington – Polly Morgan (East ward) & Mike Scott (South ward)
Moonee Valley – Cam Nation (Buckley ward) & Jacob Bettio (Myrnong ward)
Hobsons Bay – Tony Briffa (Cherry Lake ward)
Greater Geelong – Belinda Moloney (Kardinia ward)
Baw Baw Shire – Michael Leaney (East ward)
Buloke Shire – David Vis (Malle ward)
Ballarat – Daniel Moloney (North ward)
Colac Otway Shire – Stephen Hart
Darebin – Susan Rennie (South Central ward)
Hepburn Shire – Tessa Halliday (Cameron ward)
Hume – Jarrod Bell (Jacksons Creek ward)
Kingston – Steve Staikos (Bunjil ward)
Manningham – Tomas Lightbody (Manna ward)
Maroondah – Suzanne Stojanovic (McAlpin ward)
Moorabool – Ally Munari (Woodlands ward)
Nillumbik Shire – Ben Ramcharan (Sugarloaf ward)
Wangaratta Rural – Dave Fuller (City ward)