Dancing for diversity

A grand Coming Back Out Ball honouring LGBTI+ elders of all nationalities, sexualities and walks of life is about to be staged at Melbourne Town Hall, as part of the Victorian Seniors Festival.

Lovingly developed over two years by Tristan Meecham, Artistic Director of All The Queens Men, the free event will feature legendary entertainers including Robyn Archer, Carlotta and Deborah Cheetham.

‘As a young gay man, I wanted to create something that honours LGBTI+ elders and their lived experience, cognisant of the fact that they have lived through historical discrimination,’ Tristan said.

‘There are pioneers coming to the ball who have been ‘out’ for a long time, as a way of survival, and those who haven’t had the capacity to live that life, due to discrimination.

‘This is our gift to say: we see you and we honour you and we want you to be part of the fabric of our community. It is important that we remember this, especially in this divisive time for LBGTI+ people.’

Another key event happening during the Seniors Festival is the Abundance project, an intergenerational art workshop for trans and gender diverse people. The event is hosted by Celebrate Ageing initiative Alice’s Garage, The Social Photographer, Transgender Victoria, and Switchboard Victoria.

The project, also known as The Art of Trans and Gender Diverse Ageing, invites participants to fill Fowler’s jars – originally used to preserve and share food for leaner times – with items that represent an aspect of positive ageing.

Conceived in response to LaTrobe University research revealing widespread rights violations for trans and gender diverse elders, the project aims to give a voice to the challenges faced by trans and gender diverse people as they age.

‘Trans and gender diverse people tell us that as they grow older, they value the time spent expressing their gender in ways they were not able to previously,’ said Dr Catherine Barrett, Director of Celebrate Ageing.

‘We are encouraging trans and gender diverse people to share their stories to help others feel validated and inspired.

‘We want to create a ‘pantry’ of stories that will resonate with others. Through this respectful, appreciative enquiry, we hope to begin to build a pathway for healthy ageing.’

A large group of people pose for the camera in a dance studio

Monthly dance lessons in the lead up to the Coming Back Out Ball have brought together a supportive community of new friends

The City of Melbourne is proud to present more than 25 events as part of this year’s Victorian Seniors Festival, also including dancing, craft, singing, intergenerational conversations and tai chi. This is in addition to year-round services to support people’s health and wellbeing.

Councillor Tessa Sullivan, Chair of the People City Portfolio, said the events represent Council’s strong support for diverse communities.

‘The Coming Back Out Ball has never been more poignant than now, especially following Council’s recent unanimous reaffirmation of our support of marriage equality,’ Councillor Sullivan said.

‘Ultimately we want to have a city that includes all people and there’s no greater way of doing that than to encourage people and to help them access the city, feel connected and welcome.

‘These events are safe spaces; spaces that encourage people to be themselves and have fun. So get involved, and get your dancing shoes on.’

A lasting legacy

Trans and gender diverse people face many challenges as they age, including loneliness and isolation, according to Brenda Appleton, Chair of Transgender Victoria.

A woman smiling

Brenda Appleton is championing the Abundance project

Particular difficulties for people include being cut off from their family, finding aged care settings where they can be themselves and being without documentation that recognises their gender.

Many worry that they will not be treated with respect and dignity, or remembered for who they really were.

‘Most trans and gender diverse people experienced a lifetime of discrimination and have struggled to find or afford appropriate professional help to work through the mental health challenges they have faced as a result,’ Brenda said.

‘As they age, many are focussed on the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis and forget to reflect on what they have achieved and how they could be an inspiration to others.’

Brenda hopes that Victorian Seniors Festival events like the Abundance project will help older trans and gender diverse people make new friends and be encouraged to celebrate being a senior person.

‘There is an explosion of people exploring what gender means to them and perhaps those who are more progressed in their journey and experiences might be able to mentor and help those following behind,’ Brenda said.

‘Life is what we make of it. I encourage all people, especially older trans and gender diverse people, to be brave and get out and join in.

‘We need to move society from treating us with acceptance and tolerance to being valued and celebrated. We can all contribute to a better society.’

For more information, visit For older people.