Wimmera Pride Project co-founder
LOUCAS VETTOS, 26, is a proudly born and bred Wimmera man (a region of Victoria), and an advocate for the LGBT+ commmunity. Together with a friend, Loucas has created the 'Wimmera Pride Project' which has not only provided a support network for youth in the Wimmera, but has also inspired others to make a difference in the region. His grassroots movement has already received government backing and will only continue to grow as an asset to the Wimmera, and those around him.
TOM DUNN: Who is Loucas Vettos?
LOUCAS VETTOS: I’m a 26 year old, Horsham born and bred man. I work at Uniting Wimmera as a disability support worker and at a local pizza restaurant Bonnies and Clydes on weekends. I have a passion for music and dance, family and friends are of utmost importance to me and I enjoy being active throughout the community through various clubs and organizations.
TD: In 2015 you started the Wimmera Pride Project (WPP) for the Wimmera regions LGBT+ community. Where did the idea originally come from and what's the group’s purpose?
LV: The idea of the WPP came from my friend, Maddi Ostapiw and myself a few years ago as we sat together discussing how as soon as people turn 18 and leave school they want to leave Horsham and move to Melbourne or other areas. Maddi and I both knew from talking with friends and people who had left the area that part of their reason was that there was little to no support growing up in a rural/remote area. The lack of support was from people in the Rainbow community and community in general. There was no “group” or social events or really anything other than friends or families which isn’t always the safest place where you can be open and be yourself. Maddi and I thought that if we started something and see where it lead, we could help or engage people who live in the Wimmera to form friendships with others, introduce social events for the LGBT+ community and allies and network with families, friends and the community to make Horsham a welcoming, safe and progressive place for us all.
TD: With the WPP are you an advocate, a role model, or something else?
LV: I don’t like to label myself as anything other than a co-creator with Maddi. I’m not perfect, I make mistakes and the only qualification I have is life experience. I’m continuing to grow and learn as a person and while I’m somewhat associated with being one of the faces of the Pride Project, I’m new to all of this too. Maddi and I are both on the same wavelength that we will fight for the rights of the LGBT+ community and speak for those who may not be strong enough to speak for themselves.
TD: On a personal level, what's been the most rewarding thing to come from the WPP so far?
LV: I have two memories that I treasure dearly. The first is our very first movie night where we premiered the Wimmera Pride Project. Maddi and I organized a screening of ‘Holding the Man’ which is an Australian made movie based on the book by Timothy Conigrave at the theatre in Horsham. We were so nervous that nobody would show up or that the event would be a bomb, but it was quite the opposite. I bought all the food and drinks out of my own money as we had no funding at the time and I was on the phone to mum stressing “What if we don’t have enough food?” Then I realized, my mother was catering the event, we would definitely have enough food. We had over 100 people attend and local businesses donated goods for a raffle and it was a perfect way to start the WPP. I remember the film finishing and the lights coming up and one of my friends sitting in her seat with tears flowing and then hugging me saying “I’m so sorry that people go through that, I’m so sorry that people go through that”. My friend, Ebony, was referring to one of the characters in the movie dying of HIV/AIDS and realizing the film was based on a true story. After that I hugged my family individually and cried with them as I couldn’t believe we had done it. We had a successful first event!
My other fond memories are all the campaigning we did for Marriage Equality, talking to local people about the postal survey and having people ask me questions and educating people that their opinion mattered. Having friends and families band together and show their support was absolutely amazing. The second is, we held a little get together at Up Tempo Café in Horsham for those who could attend at the time of the vote being read out. When the YES vote won, Maddi and I just cried and held each other. We were so happy for our Rainbow community and for everyone Australia wide whose marriages were automatically recognized and for those who were dying to get married. It was hard to stay focused at w
ork that afternoon, the messages and phone calls were overwhelming and it was such a sense of achievement that the Mallee vote came through with a YES, only just at around 53%, but it was a YES.
TD: Are those who object to LGBT+ community bad people?
LV: In my opinion every person is different. I don’t think they are bad people, maybe just uneducated? I have met many people who have held negative views on the LGBT+ community and after having a conversation with them about what their ‘issues’ are and what the media or whoever has fed to the general public, most people do a complete 180. A little bit of education goes a long way. There is such a need to categorize people or define them by their race, sexual orientation or even just their looks that we miss the bigger picture. Should it matter who I love? Should it matter if I’m gluten intolerant? Is this what defines me as a bad person? There are people in this world actually doing the wrong thing, we read and see it every day in the news.
TD: Have you been attacked or felt threatened because of your involvement with the WPP or your sexuality? If so, why do you think that is?
LV: I’ve never been attacked or had threats made to me but I have definitely had slurs and things said about me. I’ve been called a fa*got, poof and gay (derogative usage) and tried to be made a joke of. I usually brush it off or have supportive people around me that will come to my defense. Most of it comes from men, who will either say comments or for example, if I’m at the pub on the weekend will try to dance with me but will be laughing at their friends whilst doing it. Or quite the opposite, they look uncomfortable and shoot looks at me or say something while I’m slaying the choreography to ‘Single Ladies’ but that’s a reflection on their character though, not mine.
TD: Do you think that the LGBT+ community will ever be fully accepted in Australia?
LV: Not for a very long time, but I really hope so. 50 years ago Australia had a vote as to whether Aboriginal people should be allowed to vote. In the 50 years that has passed the government thought they were giving the people the right to vote when really they were washing their hands from making a simple decision and left us LGBT+ people and our families open to weeks of heightened television ads, billboards and hate speech labeling same sex parents all sorts of things and showering hatred across the country. I hope that in the very near future there will be a healthier blend of love rather than hate.
TD: Have you noticed a change in your community since the legalisation of Gay Marriage?
LV: The WPP have a youth group run through headspace and when the bill got passed through the Senate and it went through with no amendments we celebrated and what was amazing were the young people’s reactions. They were all so happy; it was a really uplifting moment. I can imagine it has dramatically changed; people will be happier knowing that they live in a country that accepts them for who they are. Mardi Gras 2018 is going to be one hell of a party!
TD: In early 2017 the WPP received approval for a $50,000 grant from the state government. Where has that money gone?
LV: When Maddi and I first created the Pride Project, we were very quickly overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done for LGBTI+ people locally. In service organisations, people talk about “service gaps”, but for local rainbow people there is really nothing but gap. We linked in with Uniting Wimmera for general support (marketing, money auspicing, etc.), and realised that Maddi and I were spreading ourselves too thin to complete the detail-oriented administration work that has to be done in order to unlock the full potential of the Pride Project. We knew that while we had the skills and lived experience to advocate for rainbow people on a community level, neither of us had the time or the background to be able to build an organisation from the ground up as volunteers.
This grant opportunity through the state government is specifically offered to increase the organisational capacity of LGBTI+ groups, so we applied for funding to employ an administration worker for one day a week. This funding allows Maddi (our admin worker) a small amount of time each week to consult the rainbow community so we can narrow our focus and put our energy into the spaces that local LGBTI people have identified as the most important to their wellbeing.
We are very lucky to have an ongoing relationship with Uniting Wimmera where our administration worker has access to a manager who can help us problem-solve, marketing and finance assistance, desk space and technology. The Pride Project is still growing, and completing our administration action plan will go a long way in developing the Pride Project into what it needs to be to make a difference in the Wimmera.
TD: What was the feeling to see the organisation you started receive such a large sum from so high up?
LV: It was beyond amazing. $50,000 is a lot of money and we couldn’t believe that we received that much. It means so much to Maddi and I who both work and have busy lives. To have funds to put towards two positions of 2 days a week paid work means that the WPP gets to have admin time, liaise with other organizations, and appropriate time to set up a social calendar and groups to support the community.
TD: Are there any plans for you to take the WPP further than what it is currently?
LV: Yes. Maddi and I have started a support group/network for parents, we have a list of people who want to volunteer in mentoring young LGBT+ people and while we find our feet with our programs we hope people will come on board when the time is right and help carry the load.
TD: Finally, what advice would you give someone who is in any minority group and wants to make a change?
LV: Get together with supportive people and bump heads. Throw out ideas, make some goals and look toward what will benefit your minority in a positive way. It’s all possible.
Get in touch with the Wimmera Pride Project
Facebook - @wimmeraprideproject
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