Rainbow Community Angels to come to Sydney, supporting LGBTQIA+ community and events

Rainbow Community Angels to come to Sydney, supporting LGBTQIA+ community and events
Image: Rainbow Community Angels, Facebook

City of Sydney and Inner West Council will team together to pilot a community-led training program, following the success of the Rainbow Community Angels in Victoria, to support the LGBTQIA+ community and protect drag story time events.

The Rainbow Community Angels are a safety initiative that trains and supports LGBTQIA+ people and allies to take part in community events while ensuring those events remain safe and inclusive. The volunteer-run organisation was formed in May last year in response to increased anti-trans and queer-phobic attacks particularly on drag story time events.

Greens councillor Sylvie Ellsmore, who put forward the motion at the last City of Sydney council meeting, said the focal point of their training is to de-escalate threatening situations should they occur at LGBTQIA+events, as we’ve seen recently.

“The Rainbow Angels train people, allies, family members and LGBTQIA+ people to make sure they stay safe with a real focus on how you can inject fun and de-escalate,” she told City Hub. 

“They turn up dressed as angels with rainbows and face painting, but they also seriously provide training about how to liaise with police to make sure that if there are threats, that events aren’t automatically shut down but that plans are put in place to make sure people can safely attend.”

“It’s a really practical way to combat hate with love, and fun, and rainbows.”

The council’s support for the initiative can be traced back to the Lord Mayor’s LGBTIQA+ Safety Summit held in February earlier this year, when council requested that the CEO report back on ways they could support community-led initiatives which keep LGBTIQA+ people safe and supported.

Drag story time events cancelled due to hateful backlash

This year alone saw multiple drag story time events cancelled due to hateful backlash. In earlier February, the Hills Shire Council voted to stop supporting such events. Later that month, Cumberland City Council banned the events from being held on its facilities.

Cumberland City Council recently attracted national and even international headlines for banning a book on same-sex parenting from its libraries, a move that garnered significant backlash and intense protests before the decision was reversed.

Although Inner West Council has a commitment to never cancel drag story time events, the last one during Mardi Gras, held at Marrickville Library and disrupted by men allegedly linked to the Christian Lives Matter group, saw library staff targeted by the protestors before police showed up.

Inner West Greens councillor Liz Atkins told City Hub that having an “out there, loud and proud community group like the Rainbow Angels just tells those people who want to shut these things down that it’s not good enough.”

“A lot of what groups like Christian Lives Matter want to do is disempower the rainbow community and send us back into the closet,” they said.

“This is a way of going, ‘Nup. We’re going to stay. And we ourselves will look after our safety. And you’re not going to drive us away.'”

They also described the Rainbow Angels as having a “very light presence” and being a “much nicer way” of protecting the community without having a police presence.

“It’s a deliberate attempt to have community and community organisations in the room, and not the police. To not have a police-led solution at these events, though they are obviously the last resort.”

Need for cultural shift in NSW Police response to LGBTQIA+ community

The NSW Police recently teamed up with the state government for the inaugural LGBTQIA+ Consultative Committee, held at Qtopia, to discuss how the police force would begin implementing the recommendations from the Inquiry into LGBTQIA+ hate crimes.

At the time, Barry Charles, member of the First Mardi Gras Inc., emphasised to City Hub the importance of a cultural shift in the force.

The first meeting focused on setting up the consultative committee and making sure it was totally inclusive, said Charles.

“We are there to oversee the fact that they’re changing the culture so that what happened in the past never happens again.”

Despite the recent state apology, Cr Atkins said, police still need to respond properly to the hate crimes inquiry recommendations.

“They need to change at a cultural level, and I think what happened at Mardi Gras time just shows us they haven’t,” they told City Hub. 

In response to a question about whether the community has had to take matters into their own hands in light of delays in implementing the recommendations, Cr Atkins said, “I think the community feels safer taking things into their own hands.”

Support for the community-led initiative 

In response to the proposal for Rainbow Community Angels to provide training to City of Sydney, ACON, the state’s leading HIV and LGBTQ+ health organisation, wrote a letter of support, which City Hub has seen.

“ACON write in support of the proposal that Rainbow Community Angels be funded to train and support LGBTIQA+ people and allies to take part in community safety events within the City of Sydney. While ACON have not previously worked with the Rainbow Community Angels, we are supportive of community-led LGBTQ+ safety initiatives, and initiatives that provide practical event safety skills,” the letter reads.

“It is important that community initiatives are genuinely intersectional and that responses, including at events, are led by local community members. Coordinated volunteer-based programs offer important potential for this work to occur. Programs with a direct action focus, such as Rainbow Community Angels, compliment the work that ACON is currently undertaking to provide skill sharing and information to LGBTQ+ communities and Local Government staff members.”

Cr Ellsmore originally put forward the motion to support the Rainbow Angels in the May council meeting, which would have been in time for Pride Month. A particularly large agenda meant the motion had to be deferred to the next meeting.

Similarly, the Inner West Council motion, originally put forward by Labor councillor Mathew Howard, was deferred from the May meeting to an extraordinary one held on June 4. That motion was mainly to reaffirm council’s commitment to hosting inclusive events, but Cr Atkins amended it to include working with the Rainbow Community Angels.

At the moment, it is unclear when training will take place – City of Sydney will begin working with the groups, organising times with the Inner West Council, and then the initiative can be publicly advertised so members of the public can attend.

“Hopefully the pilot will be successful and that it will be the first of many,” said Cr Ellsmore.

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