(Supplied: Kensington Palace) ABC Goulburn Murray
By Mahalia Dobson
July 16, 2018 09:40:18
Australian LGBTIQA activist Jacob Thomas meets Meghan, Duchess of Sussex at a garden party.
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“I don’t want to speak ill of my hometown because I still love to come back … but it was hard,” they said.”I was bullied horrendously in primary school and quite a bit of high school — I think everyone had the perception I was gay.” It was issues like this that led Thomas to eventually leave Shepparton to live in Melbourne.”I wouldn’t have been able to tough it out, I couldn’t have,” they said. But it was this difficult period that helped shape the message behind Thomas’s advocacy work.”It’s a hard thing — you don’t want your story to always be sad,” they said.If there is a message that they hope was communicated through their work, Thomas said it was “to the LGBTIQA+ community, in Australia and across the world, you are loved and so important”. The network has around 100 members in every state of the Commonwealth and operates on five areas of work: gender and governance; sexual reproductive health and rights, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics (SOGIGESC); early, forced and child marriage; and youth transitions in education, employment and enterprise.It was tragedy that sparked Thomas’s advocacy work following the death of a dear friend. (Supplied: Jacob Thomas)
Thomas said that while Australia is on the right track, it still has a long way to go in ensuring equality for all.”Marriage equality was a big win, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done.”A lot of us in Australia are still recovering from the [same-sex marriage] survey and we need you to keep standing with us.”The next stepThomas will be back in Melbourne at the end of the month.Currently travelling around Europe, promoting equality for the gay and trans community, the activist is due to speak at a side event for the International Planned Parenthood Federation in Amsterdam.”I’m looking at pursuing new opportunities overseas in the human rights field,” Thomas said.”But until then, I’ll be focusing on my research, supporting my mentees and my community, dancing in drag, and celebrating.” “I had a subsequent breakdown after that,” they said.”I started to do a bit more research and realised how disproportionately high the [suicide] statistics are for the [LGBTIQA+] community.”There is a lot of hate that goes on in our community across the world.”Rubbing shoulders with the Royal FamilyThomas had previously also met the Duke and Duchess of Sussex during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London in April.In 2016, Thomas also received the Queen’s Young Leader Award from the Queen herself, for the activist’s work with organisations trying to prevent suicide and advocating for access to primary health care for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.Thomas does not underestimate the importance of discussing one’s cause with members of the Royal family.”People pay attention to the Royal Family, so it helps get our work out there and makes the issues we work on more visible,” they said.”It helps to have high level allies on your side when you’re working on tough matters.”Growing up in regional Australia
Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network Coordinator Jacob Thomas discussed the future of the Commonwealth with young people from all 53 member states (Supplied: Jacob Thomas)
Thomas grew up in Shepparton in northern Victoria and said that growing up as a member of the LGBTIQA+ community in a regional Australian area was not always easy. “Your existence is an act of rebellion against hate and a promotion of kindness.”You’re incredibly powerful and you’re incredibly strong — you deserve your visibility, you deserve your dignity.”If I can do it, then heck maybe you can too!”
Australian LGTBIQA+ activist Jacob Thomas at London’s Pride parade in July 2018. “We’re doing alright on a number of areas, but we need to invest in a safer, more secure, fairer and more prosperous future for our country.”
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Thomas was recently appointed Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network Coordinator. “On this very particular day when the photo was taken, there were 100 young people from all 53 states of the Commonwealth, all coming together to basically plan what the Commonwealth is going to look like to young people in 2040,” they said.”When the Duchess came over, she walked up and just goes, ‘Hello, old friend, how are you?'” Thomas said. Australian LGBTIQA+ activist Jacob Thomas made headlines earlier this year after being photographed laughing with members of the Commonwealth Youth Council — including Meghan, Duchess of Sussex — while sporting a jacket made in the colours of the trans pride flag.Thomas identifies as a gender non-binary person and uses the pronoun “they” — and it was their passion for creating a more accepting and fairer future for the LGBTIQA+ community that attracted the attention of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Thomas’s work is focused on reducing suicide rates of young people who identify as LGBTIQA+ and addressing issues of gender equality, youth participation and education among the community.”What I’m advocating for is human dignity and respect,” they said.”Australia is constantly seen as a beacon of excellence in the world, particularly the Commonwealth — people look to us.