One woman who has overcome the challenges of being queer in regional NSW wants to share a message of love and acceptance with the LGBTQI community,
Jody Ekert describes herself as “a gal about town” with a passion for organising events and building strong communities.
She grew up moving around Queensland, lived in Maryborough and then moved with her first girlfriend to Sydney, and lived there for about 15 years.
But, after an unplanned pregnancy – “a funny moment for a lesbian”, Jody said things changed.
“I was turning 30, and I thought my life was sorted because I had a partner and we had just bought a fixer-upper reno,” she said. “My second novel was published, but I was very arrogant and thought I had made it, and that life was done.
“Within six months I was breaking up with my partner, the book was widely panned, I was losing my house, and I think I just started jokingly saying to everyone that I was done with women and that I was going to explore.”
Jody said she decided to have fun and explore her sexuality, and then she fell pregnant.
“I just thought it was a bit of a ridiculous kind of gift from the universe,” she joked. “I was 32. I had an excellent job at the time, and I did think it was so absurd that I was going to run with it.
“The guy didn’t want to be involved, and I just went, ‘your choice, but I’m going to do it’.”
It was not easy for Jody as her social circle knew her as a lesbian, and she found she had to “re-come out” as bisexual.
But the label still was not something she felt completely comfortable using. After another eight years, Jody decided to settle under the label of “queer.”
A term that she feels 100 percent happy with.
But, another set of challenges came with being single and having a son through “hetero sex”, a factor not always accepted by other people in the LGBTQI community.
“But I know now we belong in the rainbow community,” Jody said.
After raising her son Elliott in Sydney for a few years, she began to look into how feasible it would be to live in a regional area.
“I just thought, I’m not sure I want to raise my child in the city and being someone that does ridiculous things I just found a guesthouse on Gumtree,” Jody said.
“I had started teaching myself how to run guesthouses by leasing old boarding houses in Sydney that weren’t being used yet and doing them up for the owners and leasing them on Airbnb or Gumtree at the time.
“We had no contacts in Tamworth, no business degree, no hospitality or tourism official experience, and yet here we are, and it’s almost been seven years.”
After moving to the regional city, Jody’s initial reaction to the conservative nature of the residents was to closet herself again.
“I think most people just read me as a divorced, straight single mother and it took a long time before I started to kind of correct that or talk about my life a bit,” she said. “But when the vote came and then I had the business, we decided we’d very publicly take a stance, and we put a massive sign outside The Rex, which has a dinosaur as a logo, and we just had an adorable sign that says, ‘rex says don’t be a dinosaur, vote yes’.”
One tough part about leaving the city Jody said was losing the readily available queer community to be found around the CBD, especially at the iconic King Street strip.
“I had assumed because Tamworth has quite a large population, that it would be much more open-minded originally than I found it to be,” she said. “We had homophobic comments on our business Facebook page after we went public and that was a real low.”
After a long journey, Jody is now comfortable with herself and her identity.
Since moving to regional NSW, Jody has travelled to international Pride festivals with her son, marched at Mardi Gras with Rainbow families and helped organise Tamworth’s very first pride event.
But she is not only about creating a space in the queer community, so when the coronavirus pandemic hit Australia, Jody looked for ways to help keep people connected online.
The result? Seven online social media groups, the biggest of which is Tamworth True.
The group connects the city’s residents, keeps them informed, entertained and also provides online events to join in on.
“It is just a community group where my sexuality is no issue, so, I think that shows how far Tamworth has come,” Jody said. “You can have a community group that is led by a queer person. So, I think that’s my proudest thing in Tamworth.”
While Jody is ready to celebrate the positives, she added there is still a lot more to be done in gaining acceptance, particularly in regional areas.
“We need more support resources out there,” she said. “But, regional towns are also embracing Pride and hosting their events which is so fantastic.”
Jody said she wants to share a message of love and acceptance and tell people it’s OK to continue to explore your sexuality as many times as you need, for as long as you need.
“Be who you want to be!”