The Victorian local council elections in October elected 29 openly LGBTQI councillors. Now, six of them have been voted to mayoral positions – four mayors and two deputy mayors.
Yarra City Council, where four out of the nine newly elected councillors are openly gay, voted for Gabrielle de Vietri as its new Mayor and Claudia Nguyen as the Deputy Mayor. Steve Staikos, a four term councillor and social housing advocate will take over as the Mayor of Kingston City Council. The other newly elected out Mayors are Daniel Moloney (Ballarat) and Cam Nation (Moonee Valley). In rural Victoria, councillor Michael Leaney has been elected the new deputy mayor of Baw Baw Shire.
Coming out in Ballarat
For Daniel Moloney, who was elected by his fellow councillors as the new mayor of Ballarat, it was a momentous year. A sitting councillor, just months before the elections, Moloney decided that his time in the closet was up. The 44-year-old Ballarat councillor, admitted he was nervous of how his city of 112,000 people would respond to his Facebook post about coming out as bisexual in May of this year.
“My two kids encouraged me to take the leap and ‘get over myself.’ So in May this year I posted a short coming out video on my councillor Facebook page. I expected either no-one to care, or some potential trolling. The reaction was the opposite, and just confirmed in my mind how wonderful my home town can be,” Moloney told Star Observer.
“After nervously hitting the post button, I found myself up most of the night with supportive friends and extended family sending a wave of happy comments. By the next morning there was another wave of broader community support, and once the local media picked up the story and the Facebook post started to get shared I was astonished that it quickly reached 51,000 people with 18,000 views of the video. Hundreds of comments came through and none were negative. Ballarat is a city that is a lot more progressive than outsiders give us credit for (the electorate recorded one of regional Australia’s highest ‘yes’ votes for marriage equality at 70.5% and the tenth highest in all of Victoria), so I probably shouldn’t have been surprised,” said Moloney.
But, what he didn’t expect was direct messages from people across the country, including a few young people from regional and rural areas in Australia, relieved to find that there was support for a leader from a regional town who had come out.
“I have always known that discrimination and bullying can be a huge issue for many people, especially young LGBTQI people in regional areas, but the stories shared directly with me showed that I’d seriously underestimated the magnitude of the challenge. I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that I want to be a supportive voice for those people to let them know that they’re awesome and don’t need to be afraid,” Moloney said.
“It felt like an endorsement that personally I was on the right track with my ideas for the city, and that my community was either supportive or didn’t care about my sexuality. I couldn’t have asked for much more.”
The Mayor of Kingston
Steve Staikos, the newly elected and openly gay Mayor of Kingston, sees the record number of openly LGBTQI councillors elected to the local councils in Victoria and now as Mayors, as part of the rainbow wave that owes to years of community engagement and advocacy.
“It is a testament to the LGBTQI community that around 30 candidates who identify as a member of this community were elected to councils, and it is a with great pleasure I see that four of those candidates were not only elected to council, but elevated to the role of Mayor of their respective municipalities,” said Staikos, who was first elected to the Kingston council in 2008. Following his win in the council elections in October, Staikos had said that his plans included an expansion of the council’s Midsumma program and reinforcing support structures like QIK – Queer in Kingston.
This is the third time that Staikos has been elected mayor – he was mayor for one year terms in 2009 and then again in 2017. This year the challenges are new though, with the priority being to help the local Kingston community and businesses affected by the COVID-19 rebuild.
Mayor Staikos has outlined other plans, including “the long-awaited vision for the Chain of Parks, preserving neighbourhood character with further strategic work being undertaken on the Housing Strategy and continuing to redevelop our sporting facilities across the city”.
The Mayor of Moonee Valley
Cam Nation, the new Mayor of Moonee Valley, has seen a huge change in how the council dealt with LGBTQI issues in the past eight years since he was first elected as a councillor in 2012. From a time when LGBTQI issues did not even receive a token nod to a council that now has an action plan for the community, received Rainbow Tick accreditation, has programs for rainbow youth groups and celebrates LGBTQI events, it has indeed been a journey. Nation said that he was “particularly proud that the significant amount of work I have put into shaping Moonee Valley into a diverse & inclusive council has resonated with voters.”
The October election results heralded Yarra as the most rainbow council with four out of the nine councillors being openly LGBTQI. Subsequently, they elected out Greens councillor Gabrielle de Vietri as the new Mayor and independent councillor and gay woman of colour Claudia Nguyen as the Deputy Mayor. Mayor de Vietri said it was the “beginning of a new phase” and has promised a focus on pandemic recovery for local business that includes some of the iconic LGBTQI establishments of Melbourne.