News / Featured / Community / 3rd April 2023
Bursting with Pride: Coona's inaugural Pride in the Park
Pride in the Park was the first Pride event in Coonabarabran’s history and a monumental day for the community and for LGBTQ+ youth across the region.
If you caught a glimpse of World Pride celebrations in Sydney last month, you may have marvelled at the incredible colour, joy and diversity on display.
The 17-day festival, which first originated in marches and protests back in 1978, hosted over 500,000 participants in 2023 – a remarkable sign of the hard-fought progress and advocacy on the part of older generations of LGBTQ+ people.
But despite the visibility and prominence of Pride events in our big cities, LGBTQ+ people in rural areas and small towns are often left behind in these bigger conversations.
In places like Coonabarabran, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA+) people may find themselves without an immediate and visible community to engage with.
The cost of no community
The price of feeling misunderstood, isolated and unwelcome in your home town, particularly for young people, cannot be underestimated.
According to 2021 statistics from LGBTQ+ Health Australia, adolescents are four times more likely to attempt suicide and twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
These health outcomes are directly related to experiences of stigma, prejudice, discrimination and abuse on the basis of being LGBTQ+.
When an eight-person committee got together in February of this year to plan Coonabarabran’s first Pride event, ambitions were modest, to say the least. A barbecue perhaps. Some rainbow flags along the main street and decorations in shopfronts. Something small to start a conversation, show support, uplift and empower young LGBTQ+ people in the area.
Facilitated by Coonabarabran Suicide Prevention Network – Yarn Support Connect, ‘Pride in the Park’ was born, a lowkey, family-friendly event with markets and music, to celebrate, educate and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community in the Warrumbungle Shire.
It has been more than five days but Yarn Support Connect chairperson Kodi Brady is still being inundated with feedback about Pride in the Park.
“I’ve heard from people I’ve never spoken to before in my life about how good it was, how much they enjoyed themselves, how they couldn't believe something like this was happening in Coonabarabran,” Kodi said.
“So many people came out of the woodwork, who now feel seen and comfortable expressing who they are.
"People who have loved ones, too, who now feel they can talk about their journeys, their kids’ journeys.”
On the morning of Saturday, 25 March, heavy rainstorms threatened to disrupt best-laid plans for the event, which was informally rebranded to ‘Pride Inside!’ and relocated to the town’s Sport and Recreation Centre at the last minute.
Decked out with colourful decorations and crammed with over 20 market stalls, the event ran from 4-8pm, with an exhaustive program of musicians, speeches and performances, made possible by Michael Armstrong's expert lighting, sound and production.
Rising star and First Nations singer-songwriter, Scott Hunter, travelled from Sydney to headline, joining other artists such as Tamworth drag queen, Missy Sparkles and performance duo, Signal Creative.
“For some people, events like this mean very little, but for others it means their life.”
Audiences were awestruck by Missy’s glamorous lip-syncs and Scott’s show-stopping vocals, and Signal Creative duo Emma Hoy and Caroline Wallace kept the good vibes going all afternoon with their everentertaining emceeing and DJ set.
Stall holders and support services included NSW LGBTQ+ health organisation ACON, representatives from the Orana Mid Western Police, as well as local and visiting vendors of all kinds.
In total, hundreds of people came through the doors, basking in a community atmosphere that Kodi Brady described as “electrifying.”
“Our expectations were exceeded,” he said. “For some people, events like this mean very little, but for others it means their life.”
Pride through the generations
Kath Barnes, from Baradine, knows first hand what it is like to experience invisibility and even open hostility due to her sexuality. Now in her 70s, she has witnessed extraordinary social and political change regarding gender and sexual diversity over the decades.
“When I grew up it was illegal to be gay. It was frowned upon. People who came out to their family then lost their family.”
After coming out as a lesbian, Kath said she “disappeared” from Sydney and never went back.
Having lived in Baradine for the last eight years, Kath said Saturday’s event was the first time she had felt truly “free” in the community.
“I came with my friend Helen and as we pulled up she said, ‘I think I’m nervous!’ And I said ‘are you sure you aren’t just excited? I’m so excited’.”
The two friends found the event “bloody wonderful” and even stuck around to enjoy the Imperial Hotel’s afterparty later that evening.
“It means the world to have that sort of acceptance in the community,” Kath said. “I hope we can have it again and again and continue to help the youngsters.”
'Youngsters' like 18-year-old Jimmy Whalan who said Pride in the Park represented “real progress” for Coonabarabran and surrounds.
“Small country towns are quite a bit behind places like Sydney, so it’s nice to see Coona catching up and making some real progress in making LGBTQ+ people feel welcome and accepted.”
“It’s very different for everyone, but I think in a small country town a lot of people feel alone.
“I think for many it feels like you’re living a bit of a double-life, and when you do that for long enough the lines start to blur and you get to a point where you have to try and figure out what parts are you and what parts are the persona."
Personally, when I came out, one of the biggest issues I had was that some people didn’t believe me.
"I think no matter what, there are challenges big and small and it’s a journey for everyone – a journey I’m not sure really ever ends.”
Twenty-one-year-old Annunciata Santoro and her mother, Greer Reynolds, who live between Gwabegar and Pilliga, stopped into Coonabarabran on Monday to deliver homemade goodies to the event organisers – a small thank you for a day that meant so much.
“We first moved out here six years ago and didn’t think this is something we would ever see,” said Annunciata, who was thrilled to attend Pride in the Park and connect with other LGBTQ+ people.
“Talking with older members, in particular, hearing enduring stories, was so special.”
Annunciata’s mother, Greer, says raising LGBTQ children in the country has been challenging and that the event was incredibly comforting and validating.
“As a parent to gay and trans children, I felt seen.”
Coming to a park near you
Organiser, Kodi Brady said that this year’s event was the first in what he hopes will become an annual celebration of love, diversity and community.
“Thank you to major sponsors, supporters and individuals that made this so successful.
“We’ve set the bar high for ourselves and now we can only go higher.”
The Coonabarabran Times is a proud sponsor of Pride in the Park.