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80. Gavriel Garrison

26 Jun

 

Gabe BWGavriel Garrison (Gabe) is an Honours student at La Trobe University, studying Psychology and Science, an unabashed fan of Laverne Cox and a committed transgender activist.

He is friendly and all-smiles, weaving jokes into the conversation with ease. But at the same time, Gabe is so articulate and passionate that within minutes of meeting him, I’m convinced he is already changing our world for the better.

Gabe has been advocating for transgender issues ever since he came out as transgender in 2015. “This was the catalyst for me,” says Gabe.

Since then, Gabe has run Transgender Day of Visibility events, and also attended and spoken at the Banyule City Council’s inaugural event for Transgender Day of Visibility.

As Queer Officer for the La Trobe Student Union in 2016, Gabe focused on “expanding trans issues on campus”.

“My main goal for my term… was to implement a gender neutral bathroom policy on campus,” says Gabe.

“Unfortunately, across most of Australia and in educational buildings, the only gender neutral toilets we have are the disabled toilets, which creates limitations.”

“We managed to get La Trobe University to approve all of the disabled toilets being labelled and specified as gender neutral toilets. That was about 88 toilets. We did an audit of the building and we found 3 extra male toilets, that we then renovated into gender neutral toilets, which was a start.

“One of the things we’re working on is for La Trobe to adopt a policy that all new buildings built on campus have a gender neutral toilet, just like you would a disabled toilet. Disabled toilets cater to specific needs, and they should be used by people who need them. It’s about creating a space for people who need a gender neutral toilet,” Gabe says.

Gabe’s has hopes that in the near future this policy will be implemented not only in Universities, but across the State.

He says, “In 2019, Victoria is coming up for a review of all the building codes and what I’m hoping is that we can get the universities on board, and other places like the Banyule City Council on board, in advocating for a similar policy to be adopted. But, not only in places like universities. Swinburne, Melbourne and La Trobe have already started doing this. So, we’re hoping to be able to take that to the review board and say, look, all these universities have done it, they’re all backing this policy, let’s introduce gender neutral toilets into public buildings as an additional part of building plans. That’s the end goal!” Gabe says.

Gabe’s determination to create positive change for trans people is reflected in his studies and future career aspirations.

“I’m doing [my degree] specifically so that I can specialise in gender and sexuality and be able to work with organisations who work with trans individuals,” says Gabe.

“My long term goals are to basically usurp the medical gatekeeping system they have around transgender people and access to health care. I want to change the current model that most places go through, which is the WPATH Standards of Care.

“[Trans people] all have unique issues, but we’re treating them with this standardised thing that doesn’t fit everyone. It’s a big problem for the community.

“You have to go through weeks of therapy… Basically, you have to jump through hoops, and those hoops cost money! And not all marginalised people have access to money. So, what we in the community are advocating for is moving to an informed consent model. If you can give legal consent, you get access to your medical request,” Gabe says.

Although he hasn’t chosen his Honours topic yet, Gabe knows he wants to focus on “something that’s going to benefit the community.

“I am interested in trans people who are also autistic, because it’s been shown so far in preliminary studies that… if someone is trans they are also 25% more likely to be autistic.

“There is no therapy catered towards trans people and there is very little therapy catered towards autistic people. Now you put the two together and there’s an extremely poor amount of assistance for someone who is trans and autistic.”

Gabe plans to “carve out an empirical research field in gender and sexuality… focusing on being trans and the underpinnings of that.”

“When you are born, the very first thing that is imposed upon you, even before the colour of your skin, is gender,” says Gabe.

“Our culture divides people down these two paths that, having gone through the experience, are actually very different. But they’re only different because of arbitrary lines. We’re actually more alike scientifically.

“You don’t learn anything about that in school. And it’s such an important issue.”

Overall, Gabe is working to change the lens through which trans people are viewed.

“Honestly, there’s so much focus in our community on just surviving. There’s so much focus in the media on suicide, self harm and negative outcomes. I want to change the focus… to what makes these people special, what makes them unique, and what makes them resilient.

“I think it’s really important for future trans people to see other, out and proud trans people, in prominent and successful positions, thriving, because growing up in my day there was no such thing. There was nothing positive about trans people,” Gabe says.

“Your feelings about whether you’re going to be successful, survive and go on (as Laverne Cox would say) to thrive, can become quite diminished when we have no role models. It’s incredibly important for us now to create a space for future generations so that hopefully, one day, they will never have to face this.”

Gabe checks himself and laughs then, adding, “I’m not going to be one of those sour people who’s like, I had to walk two miles to school back in my day! But I would be so happy if [younger generations] didn’t have to deal with what we have to deal with today.”

When I ask him about the source of his motivation, Gabe tells me, “It’s not easy. There are days when you get up and it’s a struggle.”

“But what fuels me is going down and giving a speech at Banyule’s first Trans Day of Visibility and seeing trans children in the audience and knowing how much of a profound impact that is going to have. And it’s not because I’m profound or important. It’s because there is someone there that’s like them and that’s what’s profound… They know they’re not alone.

“That’s what gets me up everyday, knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of us around the world fighting the good fight. We’re all fighting it in different ways. We’re all activists. Literally just getting up, going out and existing is an act of radical defiance as a trans person,” says Gabe.

“That’s why exposure is so important, because it’s about moving from a model of just tolerance to a model of acceptance. Tolerance isn’t truly accepting things, you know?

“We have a lot to offer the world, we have unique experiences that you can’t really get any other way. And that provides really intense and valuable information.

“I spent the first 20 years of my life walking around convincing myself that I was a woman. And now, at 29, I’ve spent the last 4 years in my transition living in the world another way and it’s incredibly different,” says Gabe.

“I think people could learn a lot from trans people, if given the chance. Knowing how people thrive in the face of adversity is a really important question and is really current today.”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Nicole Squelch

 

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79. Jets Podcast Crew

10 Jun

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They were looking for a place to share what they had to say, and they found one – their very own podcast series.

Meet Jamie, James, Holly, Lachlan and Matthew, five Jets participants who formed the Jets Podcast Crew.

Through common interests in media, radio, and music, the Podcast Crew began thinking of ideas, and sourcing content, that was relevant to young people.

The first podcasts they put together after forming in April 2017, were recordings of podcast members reading out Banyule100 articles.

“It feels weird that we started our podcasts by reading out Banyule100 articles, and now we’re being profiled on Banyule100,” James said.

They then began brainstorming topics that they thought would be interesting and educational to young people.

“We found that a lot of people didn’t know a lot about sexual health, we think it’s something that’s not fully covered in schools, particularly information that’s relevant to LGBTQI people,” Holly said.

“So we did a workshop with people that come to Jets, and asked them questions about what they thought was missing in sex education at school.”

They said following these discussions, they went out and did their own research, to try and help bridge these gaps.

“We then put a podcast together that answered some of these questions, it was in depth, but only seven minutes, so not too long that it got to the point where it was boring,” James said.

“We got a really good response from the LGBTQI community, they said they felt like they were being catered for and listened to.”

Since then, they have put together smaller, less time intensive podcasts, to increase content available on their SoundCloud account.

“We also tried to get other programs involved, including the African Women’s Action Group (AWAG), where the girls came in and answered some frequently asked questions,” Holly said.

“It’s important to hear from people in certain communities that won’t necessarily get heard otherwise.

“There’s not necessarily another platform out there where you’ll hear from a group of 16-18 year-old Somali girls, it’s a very specific thing.”

Another one of their podcasts is VibeCast, which is a news podcast with a spin on regular news.

“We were sick of seeing so many negative things in the news, so we did a bit of a reversal on that, just talking about positive stories,” Holly said.

“It might be stories about someone getting out of hospital, or 10 puppies that were born recently, whatever we think might make people happy.”

They said they aim to get one of these podcasts done every few weeks, but it can be difficult putting content together.

“If we run out of content, we’ll go and have discussions, or research what’s going on,” Jamie said.

They said they would love to get more people involved to broaden the topics discussed. The group are on a break for the moment but are planning to get together at the end of 2018 to produce more podcasts.

“We’ve been talking about doing a youth pride one, because when you hear the phrase ‘gang of youths’, you instantly think of negative things because of how young people are portrayed in the media, but we want to counteract that by celebrating young people’s achievements, and drawing attention to all the positive things young people are doing,” Holly said.

“We know plenty of people who are doing really cool things, and we think it will be a multi-episode podcast series, where we’ll pick a person per episode and talk about what they’ve done and how they’ve got to where they are.”

They would also like to do a podcast that draws attention to local musicians.

“We’d like to do some reviews of local artists, ones that people might not know existed, so we get their music heard,” James said.

They also sung the praises of Banyule Youth Services youth worker Kate James, who is one of their biggest inspirations.

“Kate’s the person who’s made it all happen, she’s here every week, she’s a really good motivator,” Holly said.

“She starts a lot of the discussions and helps us come up with some really good ideas.”

Having only met through Jets last year, they said they have all become really good friends.

“Now that we’ve met through Jets, we’ve all become friends outside of Jets, which is pretty cool,” James said.

“We’re really excited about what’s to come.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Picture: Sean Porter

78. Hayden and Stephanie Rujak

7 Apr

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After a trip to the United States in 2014, siblings Hayden and Stephanie were confronted by the homelessness they saw. They felt bad for all of the people they saw living on the streets, and wanted to do something about it. With the help of their parents, they created ‘Hayden’s Helping Hands’, an organisation that aims to assist people living on the streets by putting together care packages.

Hayden and Stephanie Rujak, the founders of Hayden’s Helping Hands are two primary school children who hand out food to homeless people in Melbourne’s CBD to try and help people in need and inspire generosity in the community.

To help those in need, they put together care packages and travel to the city and hand them out to anyone in need that they see. Hayden tells me that they have a spot in Enterprise Park that they frequently go to as there are usually a large number of homeless people in that area, however they do go to different parts of the city and try to hit as many spots as possible. This usually takes place every Sunday night and sometimes on Saturdays.

Hayden says that he is saddened by the fact that these people don’t really have anything. His advice for people wanting to help homeless people is ‘do what you can because every little bit helps.’ In the future, he hopes to see no more homeless people on the streets of Melbourne and aims to travel to other countries around the world to help out in as many places as he can. So far they have given out packages in Melbourne and Sydney, and Hayden will soon be travelling to the Phillipines and hopes to do some good there. In the future he wants to continue the organisation and keep helping different people as he is constantly kept motivated by seeing the way people live, and wanting to give them ‘a brighter day’.

In 2016, Hayden’s Helping Hands won the Pride of Australia award, a huge achievement that Hayden says he is ‘very proud’ of. Stephanie says she was ‘happy, excited, and proud’ to receive such a great award. School friends of both Hayden and Stephanie have expressed interest in the project and have, on a number of occasions, asked to join them in handing out the packages. They have given talks at school assemblies and their school even organised a collection to raise money for the organisation. This is a wonderful example of the community joining together to reach a common goal of helping people.

Once a month, they organise a barbecue under the bridge in the city and cook hot food for the homeless. Their goal is to make the organisation bigger and are currently in the process of taking on volunteers. Hayden says that when they were originally looking for charities to join, a lot of them had age restrictions, so they want to get as many kids involved as possible and don’t want to restrict who can be a volunteer.

If you would like to get involved with Hayden’s Helping Hands, you can register to be a volunteer at their website, or if you are unable to volunteer, they also accept donations. They also have a Facebook page that you can like and share to support these inspirational children on their journey to make the world a better place.

Words: Jennifer Walker

Photo: Sean Porter

 

77. Pinidu Chandrasekera

26 Feb

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Pinidu Chandrasekera admits he’s probably not interested in the things 16 year-olds are typically interested in, but his interests have taken him on incredible journeys in recent times, including to the set of Q&A.

In July last year, Pinidu was one of four high school students selected to sit on the Q&A panel alongside federal politicians Josh Frydenberg and Catherine King, to discuss topical issues.

But the Parade College student admits being selected was purely “coincidental”.

“My friend tagged me in a post on Facebook about the event, I had to send a one minute video into the ABC, where I answered a set list of three questions, why you would be good for Q&A, what issues do you care about most, and how would you go head to head in a debate with politicians, so I sent one in, and I got accepted, it was a big surprise,” Pinidu said.

You can only imagine the calibre of students who applied for the show, but in listening to Pinidu talk about politics and current affairs, it’s no surprise he was selected.

The three topics he said he cared most about were education, economic policy, and foreign policy.

“As a kid, I was always interested in news and current affairs, and what’s going in the world, which led to a natural interest in politics, because that has so much influence on the world,” he said.

“I also like speaking in front of people, and debating, I’ve been doing debating and public speaking at school since I was in year 7.”

He said he gave himself three criteria for if he was selected to be on Q&A.

“I said I wanted to have an extensive knowledge of the issues that would be covered, be consistent with my point of view, and respect everyone’s arguments by always attacking the argument, not the person,” he said.

“We didn’t know what topics would be discussed on the show, so I made sure I was prepared with everything that was going on at the time.”

One of the topics that was discussed was youth involvement in politics, and whether the voting age should be lowered.

“I’m in favour of it being lowered, but before we do it, we would need to make sure we fix our national curriculum, so students get a strong look at the real world, legal studies, politics, and finance,” he said.

“If we can transform the national curriculum to suit this, then I think when kids get to 16 and 17, they’ll be more knowledgeable and suited to vote.”

Another topic discussed was housing affordability, something Pinidu is passionate about.

“I think there’s a general perception that the housing affordability crisis is a lot bigger than it is, which I think is driven by the perception of future prices,” he said.

“Rather than huge policy overhauls, I think we have to be smart, and incentivise things to make it easier for young people to buy their first home.”

He said being on Q&A was an amazing experience, albeit an incredibly nerve-wracking one.

“I hadn’t been on a television set before, let alone a panel, that whole day at school, everyone was telling me good luck, and that just made me more and more nervous, I had butterflies all day,” he said.

“Funnily enough, the nerves actually went away as soon as the show started, I got totally immersed in what was being said that the hour just flew by.”

Following the show, one of the politicians on the panel, Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg, was so impressed, that he approached Pinidu to ask if he would like to do work experience at his office.

“During the school holidays, I did work experience at his electoral office, and it was a really interesting experience to see all of the behind the scenes work,” he said.

“I’d never been to a political office before, you see politicians talking on TV all the time, but you never realise all the work that goes on.”

At this point, Pinidu isn’t entirely sure where he sees himself going.

“I’m currently interested in politics, law, and economics, but I’m still deciding exactly what I want to do,” he said.

“They’re all connected in some way, so I’m sure I’ll find something that I’m passionate about doing.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Picture: Sean Porter

76. Zac Ray

29 Jan

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Zac Ray tells me that passion is contagious.

And listening to him talk about his long list of passions, proves this statement to be true.

The 16 year-old is an on-shore volunteer for Sea Shepherd, a non-profit organisation working to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans.

He said he was blown away by the idea of the organisation after first being introduced to it.

“My god mother told me about it, and I looked it up and thought it looked really cool, so went to a presentation by one of the Sea Shepherd volunteers,” he said.

“After it, I went and spoke to the volunteer, and was amazed, so signed up straight away.”

He said one thing that impressed him a lot was how proactive the organisation is.

“They’re actually out there doing something, not just talking about it,” he said.

“Listening to the stories of the crew members pulling out nets from the ocean with dolphins and turtles in them, it was just so confronting.”
He said despite his initial eagerness, life got in the way and he was unable to get straight into it.

“I played footy for four teams at the time, so really didn’t have time for it, but at the start of this year I got cut from two of those teams, and that’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened,” he said.

As an on-shore volunteer, Zac helps raise money for the organisation by working at stalls selling merchandise.

He also helps run boat tours for the public, on as many Sundays as he can.

He is currently in year 10 at Parade College, but said he has no issue volunteering on weekends, because he “loves it”.

Zac said this passion was one he never knew he had, although he has always loved the environment, and being in the outdoors.

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He also loves animals, and for this reason became a vegetarian.

“My sister is a vegetarian, and pretty much a vegan now, so that’s had a bit of an influence,” he said.

“I got my wisdom teeth taken out, and was on the couch for about a week, so just spent that time watching documentaries about animal welfare, and after it, I was like ‘holy crap, what are we doing?’

“Then one day I was at work eating a vegetarian focaccia, and my manager asked if I was a vegetarian, and I said that I wasn’t yet, and he said ‘well if you haven’t eaten meat today, why not start today?’, and so I did.”

And his activism work extends far beyond the ocean and dinner table, he is working to engage his fellow students about issues that are important to him.

“I started talking to my teachers about my passions, and started a campaign at school to help eliminate plastic waste in oceans by providing recycling bins for soft plastics,” he said.

“I also organised for Sea Shepherd to come in and do two presentations, and they were really popular, we had over 200 students voluntarily attend both.”

He also attended a Climate Justice Summit, run by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, with other high school students, which he said was a great opportunity to meet likeminded young people.

Zac said he has really changed his personal outlook this year.

“Before this year, I thought about things too much, I always wanted to do something, but didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said.

“This year, I realised I had to stop trying to be like everyone else, and just be myself.

“It changed my whole perception of life, you’ve just got to put yourself out there and do things.”

He said he plans to continue his volunteer work with the organisation.

“I want to become a crew member on Sea Shepherd, but they get 5,000 applications a year for it, so it’s not easy to be accepted,” he said.

When asked how he would pitch himself so he stood out from the rest, he said he hoped his passion would get him over the line.

“I have volunteered for almost a year now, so I really hope my commitment and passion stand out,” he said.

While doing this, he also hopes to pursue a career as an outdoor education leader, which is his end goal.

“I did a trip with World Challenge recently, they’re a company who run trips with schools,” he said.

“Our group did a four week trek in four countries, Thailand, Laos, China and Vietnam, and worked on a cultural project.”

He said the leaders of these groups are who he wants to become.

“The leader on my year 9 camp was amazing too, after it I was like ‘I want to do that’,” he said.

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photo: Sean Porter

75. Lyn Fletcher

9 Jan

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Lyn Fletcher has a wealth of knowledge, experience and wisdom that has helped shape Banyule into the community it is today. Lyn currently manages two youth specific programs at Berry St, a Victorian organisation that since 1877 has focused on supporting children, youth and families and preventing family and child violence, ensuring “every child has access to a good childhood.”

The two programs include Post Care Support Information and Referral (PCSIR), which help young adults develop independence and community links after they have left government care, and Transitional Youth Support Services (TYSS) which help vulnerable young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with support to stabilise their situation and seek housing options.

Lyn’s journey to managing these two comprehensive programs began with inspiration from her mother “…who had a huge social conscious and was a part of a workers’ union.” Growing up in Rosanna and West Heidelberg during the time when public housing projects was on the rise, Lyn’s mother helped show Lyn that “there are kids from low socio-economic backgrounds, who are less fortunate than us”.

Her skill set shines through her involvement with “intercountry adoption and foster care which we were a part of for many years. We cared for several sibling groups and a little girl who we now consider our own.”  Through caring for these vulnerable children over the years, Lyn identified “the gaps in the system” and decided to tackle these issues head on. These experiences compelled Lyn to undertake a Diploma of Welfare Studies, and her first placement at Berry St Eltham. She dealt with “helping youth with housing and life skills” from the beginning of her work in the system.

Some of the greater challenges that Berry St and Banyule at large faces in Lyn’s eye include “…raising funds and resources for crisis accommodation”, as “both Banyule and Nillumbik are high socio-economic areas,” and thus not in obvious need of funds.  Homelessness is generally associated with lower income areas, which is why “large campaigns such as Wearing Out Your Welcome, which aimed to raise awareness about youth homelessness in our suburbs was so important.” However, this campaign was not prioritised under a change in government, and although funding of a scaled down version of the recommendations was provided by Banyule Council, Banyule and Nillumbik still face a lack of crisis or affordable housing. “We need to raise awareness about what homelessness actually is- couch surfing, living in tents, all of that, not just being out on the streets.” Lyn asserts that because the idea of what being homeless is so narrow and stereotyped, “many young people wouldn’t consider themselves homeless and therefore do not seek support.”

Lyn hopes that Berry St and other youth services in the Banyule/Nillumbik area will continue to address these gaps and meet the needs of young people by “being strong advocates for them and providing a youth hub…a centralised place where youth-specific services can be accessed.”  This expansion, in her mind, will ensure “the youth voice is heard, and that (we can) maintain high quality service.”

With the remainder of her career, Lyn aspires to help “grow the accommodation (facilities) within the North-East…so that there is more than one model… where young people could live in crisis, medium or long-term accommodation with support on site, similar to the Youth Foyers that already exist in in areas such as Glen Waverley and Broadmeadows. “the time is right for the North East to have one too” says Lyn.    She also hopes that the formal age for Leaving Care will be raised from age 18 to 21 and access to support available up to age 25, as “many young people, who have experienced trauma and have a care history may have disrupted education and lack of opportunities and require support beyond age 18.  “We fail them if we don’t acknowledge and cater for this.”

It’s clear that Lyn is driven by “…seeking social justice for young people,” and “identifying issues and addressing them together” so much so that “it’s a passion, never work for me!” She encourages others to find a similar path. She believes her long, enriching “work and life experience…before entering the welfare sector, has contributed to her commitment “to get the job done”. Lyn continues to advocate for young people’s right to safe and secure accommodation linked to their community in particular the young people of Banyule and Nillumbik.

Words:  Taylor Carre-Riddell

Photo: Sean Porter

74. Michael Sibillin

27 Dec

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Michael is a bright, charismatic 20-year-old costume extraordinaire.  He is “on the autism spectrum”, which means he understands and processes the world around him a bit differently, but as Michael assures me, “I’m not shy or anything at all!” He and his bubbly mother Nadia live in the city of Darebin, but he attended the Concord School, Bundoora and is helping spread his passion with school communities.

Michael first began creating costumes 6 years ago, where “he started making little things such as figurines and boots.”  He wanted to “learn patience… learn how to research, and pay attention to little details.” Nadia leans forward and explains how people with autism tend to “grip onto”  one topic and study it obsessively. When Michael started making costumes he made Power Rangers outfits, a colourful team of superheros who have a long time TV show.

Passion helped Michael figure out how to “use cardboard, glad wrap, glue, duct tape, stick on diamonds, and sequins” to create costumes that are both “functionable and wearable.” Michael tells me that he achieved his first wearable costume a few years ago when “I made a Bowser mask that had a moveable mouth.” Bowser is a Mario-Kart video game character that is close to Michael’s heart. He was enthralled with making “functional and wearable costumes”  and Bowser’s snout was the perfect place to start embarking on this endeavour.

However, nothing comes close to his latest passion and costume inspiration; the legendary rock band KISS. Michael is fixated with the Creatures of The Night and Dynasty eras and album, most well-known for giving lead singer Gene Simmons his demonic face look. He made a Gene Simmons costume with spikes and boots that is incredibly lifelike. His costuming prowess has landed him a potential exhibition project at Jets Studio, a creative youth focussed studio in Bundoora.

Michael enjoys playing and teaching himself guitar in the Jets band, Kings of Lightning and is “excited for my first gig” which is soon approaching. He says playing guitar is a big part of his life, and he has met many music and rock loving friends this way. Michael also gave a talk at West Reservoir Primary School, helping the kids “make foil people, using things you’d never think of using normally.”

Michael hopes he can continue his costume building and figurine making well into the future, inspiring and helping the community all the while.

His advice for any young or beginner costume designer and makers is make a costume of something you like, as this is what keeps the extra hard work in the early days more fun!

Words: Taylor Carre-Riddell

Photo: Sean Porter