Rosie Lourde (far left) and her costars in Starting From Now. Photo: Tim Thatcher
I was lucky enough to grow up in the heart of Sydney's queer community. However, for most of my life, the queer stories I've seen represented on screen haven't accurately reflected the community I know.
Every aspect of my life was filled with freedom of expression cultivated by some of the most passionate leaders I've known. It wasn't always simple; but compassion, respect and understanding were always at the heart of the community. My high school, Newtown High School of Performing Arts, continues to lead by example, recently eradicating uniform gender restrictions.
Growing up in Newtown, it was normal that families came in different shapes and sizes. It didn't matter if two people of the same gender loved each other, or if one day someone told you they were in fact a different gender. People weren't assessed by which box they fit in to, they were appreciated for what they brought to the broader community. I saw everyone grow as a result of the culture of inclusion, regardless of how they identified.
Rosie Lourde (front, right) road with Dykes on Bikes at last year's Mardi Gras parade.
In early 2013, I started producing screen content. Since then, I've produced feature film Skin Deep, and three seasons of the web series Starting From Now, which I also act in. Both projects are set in an LGBTQI-inclusive world where sexual preference isn't the biggest issue. Since releasing both projects I've noticed a couple of trends.
Most LGBTQI screen content centres around the problems of being queer, focusing on a person's struggle with their sexual identity or the dilemma of coming out. Whilst there is a need to share these stories, reducing the representation of queer life to primarily these struggles is problematic.
For people outside the LGBTQI community, focusing on coming out stories perpetuates the myth that the experiences of queer people are fundamentally different and cannot be related to. Furthermore, organisations such as Family Voice Australia which "partners with churches as a Christian voice to our nation upholding family, faith and freedom" have argued against marriage equality saying that the inflated representation of LGBTQI people in mainstream media is warping people's perspective and that "Before making radical changes in society based on LQBTQI people's demands, we should understand how many they really are".
Astoundingly, we've seen this opinion mirrored recently in some of the voices encouraging the review of the Safe Schools program arguing that the mental health of a small number of teenagers is not worth the cost of the program. But these arguments revolve around their own fundamentally warped misunderstanding of the LGBTQI community and the greater benefits of a culture of inclusion.
By telling stories that focus on the shared human experience, we open the door for everyone to empathise. It only takes the opportunity to relate to one facet of a person's life to encourage compassion for all their struggles. If we can do this, perhaps even these naysayers will understand that the percentage of queer people doesn't matter.
For LGBTQI people living in non-inclusive communities, focusing stories on 'the problem of being queer' reinforces that being queer is in fact their biggest problem. By diversifying the queer narrative and de-radicalising characters' sexualities, we are able to tell stories that explore the broader issues in life – love, friendship, illness, hope, death, courage – without qualifying people's experience by how they identify themselves.
Filmmakers have a responsibility to not only reflect the world in which we live (thank you Nina Simone) but also to inspire the ongoing evolution of the world we want to create. What better way to do that than through the power of stories?
Those of us inside the LGBTQI and allied community are hungry for more interesting and complex explorations of queer characters, and so is the broader community whether they know it or not. This can be seen through the extraordinary cult followings of Orange Is The New Black, Sense8, Australia's own Wentworth and Janet King, and now Starting From Now.
Everything we make has the power to inspire change. We're standing at the precipice of a new era in filmmaking which promises to celebrate diversity. I applaud the list of organisations who have responded to the growing demand with initiatives, targets, grants and revised guidelines. Whilst it's been slow to arrive, the movement towards greater inclusion, gender parity and cultural diversity is definitely reason to celebrate.
The world I grew up in was bigger than any one issue. It accepted everyone that was willing to treat others with respect, regardless of their personal cultures. From this, people of all descriptions flourished, groundbreaking ideas were born, and the world was changed. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels, our screen stories need to mirror this culture of inclusion if we are to reach the equality we all deserve.
Rosie is an actor and a film producer. Her feature film Skin Deep played a limited release in cinemas earlier this year, and webseries Starting From Now released three seasons on YouTube in 2014, just broke 20 million views, and will be airing Seasons 4 and 5 on SBS2 starting this coming Monday night at 9:15pm.
Catch up on all three previous seasons on SBS On Demand.