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How we're celebrating Mardi Gras: 5 minutes with Michelle Dickson

25 February 2020
'My culture reminds me to look in the footsteps of those who walked before'
Mardi Gras is around the corner and this year's theme is What Matters? We caught up with Dr Michelle Dickson about what matters to her as a proud Aboriginal woman and member of the LGBTIQ community.

What is your background and why did you join the University?

I am a Darkinjung/Ngarigo person from New South Wales. I live and work on Gadigal land, the place many now call Sydney and the host to the Camperdown campus of the University.

Dr Michelle Dickson in Vancouver, Canada.

Dr Michelle Dickson in Vancouver, Canada. 

I have worked in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and higher education sectors for 26 years.

I chose to join the University in 2010, seeing an opportunity to work in an academic role that combined my clinical background (mental health/social and emotional wellbeing), love of teaching and desire to research using Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing.

I hoped that the University valued diversity and would support me to work and live my personal, academic and cultural self. I am also a proud nerd and a little bit of a workaholic.

What matters to you and why?

“Back in the day”, when I was still in my youth, I was often marginalised for speaking my truths, going to rallies, and protesting for equity and a better world. Today I can do all of those things without fear, as a proud lesbian, Aboriginal woman. That's what matters to me.

It matters that I can come to work at the University and be my authentic self.
Dr Michelle Dickson

It matters that I was able to marry Helen in 2017, because we wanted to, and we could. It matters that we can live with my adult children in a community that sees us and enjoys us.

It matters that I can come to work at the University and be my authentic self. It matters that I am not defined by pieces of me but valued for my entire human self.

Sydney and the University have come a long way in our diversity and cultural space and it matters to me that we keep doing the important work to make sure our progress continues.

Why do you think it’s important that the University community gets behind Mardi Gras?

Dr Michelle Dickson (left) attending Sydney Mardia Gras in 2018. 

Mardi Gras, as Sydney knows it now, was born out of the acts of our LGBTIQ Elders who took brave moves to celebrate and promote LGBTIQ culture at a time when discrimination was routinely practised and experienced. 

Mardi Gras 2020 presents an opportunity for the University to not only stand with our LGBTIQ community, but to honour our successes.

How will you be celebrating Mardi Gras this year?

I will be working in Canada, on my first Special Studies Leave in 10 years! 2020 will be the first year I have not participated in my regular Sydney Mardi Gras events and the first time in years I will not march.

But I am celebrating from a good place. My wife and I have made connections with our LBQ community here in Canada and plan to have a celebratory dinner or watch ice hockey. Of course, my spirit will be completely immersed in Sydney Mardi Gras - that little piece of glitter that won’t leave.

Do you have any practical advice for being a good ally to the LGBTIQ community?

My Aboriginal culture reminds me to always look at the footsteps of those who walked before you.
Dr Michelle Dickson

Being an ally is simple but all too often the world over complicates things. Be yourself, know yourself, show your humanity and be a friend. Being human is what we need most; we need our allies to be present with us in all our shared humanity.

On a practical note, a good ally makes sure their workplace celebrates and values the LGBTIQ community as core to University business – not just in Mardi Gras season.

Who do you look up to in the LGBTIQ community?

My Aboriginal culture reminds me to always look at the footsteps of those who walked before you, those Elders who fought the battles and learnt lessons that they passed on to the next generation.

Their lived experiences and knowledge make life a little easier to understand and navigate. I look up to my LGBTIQ Elders in the same way - they faced battles and paved a path that made it possible for us all to proudly follow and uphold.

Why are you passionate about Indigenous health promotion?

The Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health Promotion (GDIHP) was established to address inequities faced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who wanted to attain a University degree but had not had the opportunity to complete traditional educational pathways that lead into a degree program.

As Program Director, I am a passionate educator and believe the program can change the life of an individual, and build capacity and capability. Importantly, that individual’s change also can have a positive ripple effect on their family, friends and community.

Australia’s attempts to close the inequity gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health are not making enough progress.

Building the capacity of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce is an essential component to future success, and GDIHP alumni graduate with a degree from our University that positions them well to be leaders in that space.

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