IN 2015, friends Maddi Ostapiw and Loucas Vettos saw the lack of support groups and services for LGBTI people in the Wimmera and decided to take action. The result was the Wimmera Pride Project.
Maddi said the inspiration for the project came after reaching out to Victorian Gender and Sexuality commissioner Ro Allen.
“I reached out to Ro, asking what we could do in the Wimmera to make it more inclusive for LGBTI people, and they actually called me with some ideas,” they said.
“That’s how the Pride Project came about and it just took off from there.”
Loucas said one of the group’s greatest achievements had been helping LGBTI people feel confident in themselves.
“We are always doing private meet-ups and events for those in the Wimmera rainbow community who might not feel comfortable to come out yet,” he said.
“One of our big focuses recently has been on the transgender community and looking at ways of being more more inclusive to them.”
He said it was often difficult for Wimmera LGBTI people to feel accepted in the community.
“It is extremely isolating living in regional areas,” he said.
“Maddi and I have been networking with other regional LGBTI groups, which is a great way to share knowledge of how we can make things more inclusive.
“In the same-sex marriage postal survey last year, the Wimmera voted yes, which was fantastic.”
Loucas said it was difficult to know whether the community had become more inclusive since the group’s inception.
Related: Support for Wimmera LGBTI youth
“There are always going to be those people who are allies and those who are not,” he said.
“Education is so important because people really fear the unknown. It’s important that people know that we are born this way and we are the same as everyone else.
“If people are struggling with their identity, they can contact us via the Wimmera Pride Facebook page. It’s important to not be afraid and to talk to someone.”
The project recently received state government funding for a consultant to help with its governance structure.
Maddi said the group had also recently undergone extensive community consultation.
“We wanted to find out what the community wanted and what was expected of the group,” they said.
“At the moment, we’re finalising our website which will include and event calendar of all the upcoming events people can come to.
“We’re also very happy that a lot of local community services are reaching out to us and asking how they can be more inclusive of LGBTI people.”