Phoebe Hooper, second from left, put her own money into funding the Rural Pride Festival in Katherine last year.
Phoebe Hooper, second from left, put her own money into funding the Rural Pride Festival in Katherine last year.

Do one thing today you can take pride in

GOFUNDME campaigns have got a bit of a bad name in recent times.

The website has been used for dubious purposes in the past, and those people are often swiftly called out in the media.

Last month a couple angled for people to pay for a second honeymoon (they got slammed) and the wealthy founder of Ksubi jeans was criticised for using the website to raise money late last year.

But this one is a little different. The campaign to raise a humble $2000 to run a Pride Festival in Katherine in the Northern Territory is one of those rare examples that pulls at the heartstrings.

Phoebe Hooper - who is in the process of transitioning from female to male - is planning the second annual Rural Pride Festival, which will be held in Katherine later this year.

In 2017 Phoebe earned a position on the Northern Territory Youth Roundtable, whose members advise the regional government on youth issues and launch community service projects.
In 2017 Phoebe earned a position on the Northern Territory Youth Roundtable, whose members advise the regional government on youth issues and launch community service projects.

"It's for people in the Katherine region and beyond to come together, learn about each other and celebrate the amazing community of LGBTQIA+ and allies that live in our small towns and communities," the 18-year-old explains.

Last year the festival included a colour run, a movie night and workshops. About 1500 people got involved and raised $1000 for Headspace.

The Rural Pride colour run was held in Katherine last year.
The Rural Pride colour run was held in Katherine last year.

Phoebe funded the festival out of his own pocket last year, with a couple of local business and community organisations chipping in.

New additions to the program will (hopefully) be a masquerade ball and a candlelight concert to acknowledge the losses from HIV and AIDS.

As Phoebe can attest, coming out, wherever you live, can be a challenge.

Coming out in a remote part of Australia, such as Katherine in the Northern Territory, can be a downright terrifying prospect.

"I do think it's harder [coming out] in regional towns ... I know this from my own personal experience and from the statistics on mental health difficulties in remote communities," he says.

The Northern Territory can be a particular difficult place for young people. The NT has the highest child suicide rate in Australia.

"It is more difficult to gain acceptance - we are shut off from the rest of the world and it's easy for non-progressive people to hide in places like this," he says.

"Young people who grow up in these communities rely a lot on their parents' opinions to shape their points of view. If you grow up in a family whose ideals aren't modern, you tend to grow up with those ideals as well."

Basically, any bigoted, racist or homophobic views aren't challenged when you're living in a bubble.

It doesn't get much more remote than Katherine in the Northern Territory.
It doesn't get much more remote than Katherine in the Northern Territory.

And so, as disappointing as it was, it's not surprising that Phoebe endured years of bullying throughout her schooling in Katherine.

"In Year 6 and 7 particularly I felt completely isolated," he recalls.

"The main bully I had turned all my friends against me. I was left with one friend who was also being bullied. It was difficult to overcome that and the school wasn't that supportive.

"A lot of the words these people used against me, I didn't know - my parents didn't swear or use slang at home so when someone called me 'gay' or 'leso' I just really didn't know what they meant.

"I went through a long period of anxiety and self-hatred that worried my family and close friends for many years, even after the bullying ceased."

Phoebe gradually built a group of friends in high school who he said were "as strange as I was" and the sense of isolation lifted a little.

The worst of the bullying Phoebe endured happened in grade 6 and year 7.
The worst of the bullying Phoebe endured happened in grade 6 and year 7.

It was when he was on the cusp of travelling overseas on exchange that he realised he wanted to come out.

He credits the "accepting" family he stayed with in Canada with giving him the courage.

"The people I was living with were very supportive ... I was in a town where people only knew me for a short period of time. They knew me as me, not the person I had grown up as.

"It was easier to come out to those people as they hadn't known me since I was three years old - it empowered me to come out to my family and friends back in Katherine and it allowed me to be myself."

He says his family found it "rough at first".

"There's a bit of time that needs to be taken to talk about it and mull it over. After about a year it got easier to talk about it - we've started to move on from it now."

Phoebe delivers a speech as part of the Youth Leadership Program in the US on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC — the same steps where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Picture: Supplied
Phoebe delivers a speech as part of the Youth Leadership Program in the US on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC — the same steps where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Picture: Supplied

Phoebe is currently completing Year 12 over two years, so he can continue working two part-time jobs - as a steward at the air force base in Tindal and as a project officer for Katherine Regional Aboriginal Health and Related Services.

Somehow, Phoebe also finds the time to run Keep Talking, the non-profit organisation he founded to increase awareness and inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community, and support mental health.

 

Phoebe will help man a Rural Pride stall at the local markets.
Phoebe will help man a Rural Pride stall at the local markets.

"It started as a research project to develop data within the NT region for LGBT people because there really isn't any," he explains.

Through the Keep Talking program he has developed and delivered workshops for teachers and students at Katherine High School, which aim to cultivate mutual understanding among students (it was deemed a success - in a post-workshop survey, the "feeling of safety" among students rose by 20 per cent while the "feeling of connectedness" went up 40 per cent).

"I'm currently designing and writing up three different workshops for communities and schools with varying degrees of difficulty," he says.

"The aim is for people to build connections and start having positive conversations without people being embarrassed or worried that they're going to make a mistake."

He is hoping to distribute the workshops territory-wide by January 2019.

 

Phoebe (second from left) won the 2018 Northern Territory Young Achiever Community Service Award.
Phoebe (second from left) won the 2018 Northern Territory Young Achiever Community Service Award.


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