Over the past two years Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality Rowena Allen has eaten more rainbow cake than might be “humanly possible” but the spectacular one on offer at the launch of Uniting AgeWell’s inaugural Celebrating LGBTI week still had special significance.
“I used to work in this building about 25 years ago,” Ms Allen told the midday gathering in 130 Lt Collins St synod offices.
“I took a photo of this cake and sent it to my partner, who is also a Uniting Church person, and said ‘Pinch me I’m in the Uniting Church Synod building’.
“She replied with: ‘I don’t believe you, bring me a piece home’.”
Ms Allen was the founding CEO of UnitingCare Cutting Edge before becoming the state’s first commissioner for gender and sexuality. She recalled that homosexuality was still illegal in Victoria up until 1981.
“Twenty-five years ago in this room I would not be cutting a rainbow cake,” she said.
“I’ll be honest, I have been discriminated against in this building. It’s extraordinary how far we have come.”
Ms Allen said in the area of aged care there was still a lot of work to be done, with LGBTI people sometimes packing away photos and other items before home help arrived to keep their sexuality a secret.
She praised the efforts of Uniting AgeWell in promoting acceptance through events like Celebrating LGBTI Week.
“You are absolutely setting the bar in Victoria and Tasmania,” she said.
Ms Allen’s father spent his last years in a Uniting AgeWell facility and she said the way it had welcomed her rainbow family “had been really, really special”.
“I know what it means personally when you see a rainbow on a dove, for me as a Christian it really means a lot,” she said.
Uniting AgeWell CEO Andrew Kinnersly said there would be plenty of rainbow doves being put out across aged care facilities during the Celebrating LGBTI Week, as well as other events including dress ups, pride parties, guest speakers and LGBTI movies.
“We know that people in the LGBTI community face discrimination through their lives and it’s really important we understand that,” Mr Kinnersly said.
He revealed the “hot off the presses” news that 78 percent of the 2500 Uniting AgeWell staff had completed mandatory LGBTI training.
Mr Kinnersly said one in 10 older people identified as part of the LGBTI community and he was proud of the work Uniting AgeWell was doing to promote inclusion, which has been recognised with a Dorothies Award and LASA 2017 Excellence in Care Award.
“The celebration of LGBTI Week and today’s opening event are important steps in our journey and particularly our awareness of and encouraging our staff to embrace inclusiveness,” he said.