A chance meeting between self-proclaimed ‘soul friends’ Ashlee Heard and Ryan Stone has seen the formation of the region’s new LGBTQIA+ group and a growing number of events and programs to support the community and its allies.
Bonding over their love of wine, food and Ru Paul’s Drag Race, the pair realised they had almost met during the 2018 Margi Gras festival.
“[We] wished we’d had the opportunity to be at more of these events,” explained New Zealand-born Heard.
“We found ourselves looking around the room for adults to organise this for us, and realised we were the adults!”
With Heard’s business management and counselling qualifications, and Stone’s many years experience in the wine and hospitality industries, the pair were moved to establish the group.
“We took our respective skills and put them towards something we are passionate about and founded Margi Pride Inc.
“We reached out to key people in the community to gain the support from others who agreed it was time for a change; time to paint the town rainbow colours and create safe spaces for friendships to develop and educate the community about what it means to be LGBTQIA+.”
The group held its inaugural gathering at The River in early February, and Heard said they were thrilled with the turnout.
Larger cities have more community, regional spaces not so much, and the world can feel smaller than it really is, particularly for our younger members. Which is why inclusion of all ages is important to us – a sense of belonging is critical to good mental health.
– Ashlee Heard
“As community members wandered in, they were greeted by Ryan and I, who proudly shared that the core values of Margi Pride are Community, Inclusion, Cultivate, Educate and Celebrate.
“It’s important to create spaces in a regional area where there isn’t necessarily as much opportunity for the LGBTQIA + groups to be in safe, friendly spaces,” she said.
“It’s something we felt was missing, and we often wished for spaces like this so we could meet like-minded people.
“Larger cities have more community, regional spaces not so much, and the world can feel smaller than it really is, particularly for our younger members.
“Which is why inclusion of all ages is important to us – a sense of belonging is critical to good mental health.
“We want everyone to feel free to be themselves, supported in their uniqueness, celebrated and confident to walk through life with their head held high, knowing that we are their cheerleaders.”
The pair said the Margi Pride group gave the chance to cultivate bonds, both for LGBTQIA+ community members, and with local businesses and groups.
“[We can] create spaces where the community can be educated about history and culture and what it means to be LGBTQIA+, and have a safe space where questions can be asked, and confusion can be addressed.
“LGBTQIA+ people have not always been able to walk freely. While there is still progress to be made, we want to celebrate how much adversity we have overcome as a community and pay our respects to those who fought for our rights to celebrate and be ourselves in a world that didn’t always allow that.”
The next Margi Pride event will be held this Friday April 8, as part of Youth Week 2022 celebrations.
Members will provide an information space with a key focus on pronouns and a goal to obtain more youth input in the group.
To stay informed about future events, follow @MargiPride on Instagram or Facebook.
If you’re interested in joining the mailing list, reaching out or being involved in the Margi Pride group or committee contact the team on [email protected]
Mindful Margaret River is an alliance of mental wellbeing professionals, government agencies and community members aimed at promoting health and wellbeing in the AMR Shire.
First published in the Augusta Margaret River Mail 7 April 2022