For the month of June, individuals and communities dusted off their rainbow flags, joined parades and events to celebrate the LBGTQ+ people.
Each June, Pride Month is celebrated as a tribute to those who were involved in the Stonewall Riots in New York City on 28 June 1969.
The riots stretched over six days and the events that happened between police and the LGBTQ+ protesters would fundamentally change the discourse surrounding LGBTQ+ activism.
In Tamworth, LGBTQ+ groups have existed since the 1970s with the latest group known as Tamworth Pride.
But there was one man who really advocated for local LGBTQ+ people at a time where homosexuality was criminalised.
Vernon Marshall was an out gay man from Berlin who migrated to Tamworth in the 1950s and managed to open a mailbox for the LGBTQ+ people in the 1970s, despite intense pushback from police.
Tamworth resident Jody Ekert was so fascinated by Vernon’s humble story that she delved deep into his history and subsequently the queer history of Tamworth, launching the Hey Vernon Project this Pride Month.
“I have been obsessed with detailing his story for the past three months and it all started with someone telling me about this mysterious man named Vernon Marshall who was an out gay man that tried to be an advocate,” Jody shared.
“By all accounts he was a very mild mannered man who was already in his 6os by the time the 70s rolled around, and then all of a sudden he comes out screaming as a loud and proud gay advocate.”
Vernon made multiple attempts to open a mailbox for people to use as a way of support, encouraging everyone to come out, even publishing a newsletter titled Coming Out.
“It took him about six months to get his mailbox open because the postmaster wasn’t sure he could have a mailbox during a time where homosexual acts were illegal,” shared Jody.
“Then the Northern Daily Leader didn’t want to run classified advertising for his mailbox and even referred him to the police who interrogated him and said they would put him under surveillance.
“But he was a pretty sassy guy from what I’ve read of his work, and he actually responded to the police interrogation claiming it was impossible to have some homosexual acts happen in the mailbox itself, so he was fine legally.
“Eventually everyone gave up and gave him the mailbox to start his project.”
Entertainer Blake Riley hosted the Hey Vernon Project launch alongside Jody Ekert.
Jody’s Hey Vernon Project replicates Vernon’s idea of the mailbox, opening one up herself for the community far and wide to write to.
“It is a way to pay respects to the work he did and to continue that work,” she said.
“I think opening a mailbox is a fabulous way for people to express themselves anonymously if they want to and there’s nothing better than just writing your actual feelings and sending them off.”
Although Pride Month is about celebrating the lives of LGBTQ+ people, it is also a time of education.
“The month is also used to educate people as to why a month dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community is still needed in 2023,” told Will Weller, President of Tamworth Pride.
“We still don’t have complete equal rights with heterosexual and cisgender people. Things have got quite difficult for transgender people at the moment over in the USA and here in Australia.
“Drag queens as well have been put through some crappy stuff with the cancelling of story times due to threats to staff and the performance itself.
“So, it is obvious there is still homophobia and transphobia among others out there, meaning we need to continue letting people know that we don’t have equal rights and we are still facing discrimination.”
Tamworth Pride https://www.facebook.com/groups/1608766449433915/
Hey Vernon Project https://www.heyvernon.org/