“I buried my sexuality, but you can only do that for so long”

Mardi Gras is still a chance to address LGBTQI+ issues, says Narelda Jacobs.

2021 marks the third time Narelda Jacobs will co-host the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras for SBS, and having come out as gay to an Indigenous family, she is more than aware of the need to turn the spotlight to aspects of the queer community.

Jacobs, who presents news for 10 News First and Studio 10, is partnered to filmmaker Stevie Martin-Cruz (The Tailings, Pulse, Marrow) and parent to her daughter. Shared with SBS / NITV for key events, her life is happily busy and going from strength to strength.

But 24 years ago, coming out to family was much harder, given her father was a Reverend in the Uniting Church, and her mother a pastor.

“I grew up with evangelical teachings that gays are going to hell and HIV is brought by God as punishment, and all that sort of stuff. I buried my sexuality deep down but you can only do that for so long,” she tells TV Tonight.

“My eyes were opened!”

“But I was introduced to some lesbians in a workplace in the public service, who took me out one night, and my eyes were opened! I didn’t look back after that. It took three years to pluck up the courage to be able to come out to my family. After that it was like a huge burden had been lifted. I was able to live my authentic self. It was just a freeing experience.

“But my experience isn’t unique, it’s something that we all go through when we’re coming out. My mum cried and was, ‘How long has this been going on?’ I said, ‘Three years’ and she said, ‘Well, that’s a lot to undo.’

“I was in my early 20s so I had full control of my adult life. Whereas I feel for young people now who make a decision coming out knowing that they are still under control of their parents and guardians. In states where conversion therapy is still legal, it’s no wonder that some young people remain in the closet. That has a really big impact on mental health issues,” she continues.

“Conversion therapy needs to be outlawed around the entire country. It’s great to know that in some states, Queensland and now Victoria, that it is outlawed. There’s some states that need to ramp up the discussion.”

Jacobs again joins Joel Creasey, Zoë Coombs Marr and Courtney Act for the SBS broadcast. This year’s event will not take place on Oxford Street due to COVID restrictions, but as a seated event at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Performing are Rita Ora, Electric Fields, Montaigne, G Flip and a Welcome to Country from John Leha, Scott Hunter, Koomurri dancers, NAISDA dancers and Buuja Butterfly dancers.

“Mardi Gras is a coming out rite of passage.”

Jacobs likens this year’s Mardi Gras to a ‘Rainbow Olympics’ … an opening ceremony in a sports stadium that is rarely a home for the gay community.

Mardi Gras is a coming out rite of passage. It’s like a pilgrimage coming for your first time. It’s just an incredible feeling, especially when it was still taboo to talk about -it still is now for a lot of sections of the community,” Jacobs explains.

“The beauty of having an event like Mardi Gras is that each year it brings up new things to discuss.”

“But the beauty of having an event like Mardi Gras is that each year it brings up new things to discuss. More and more we hear about Trans inequality. It’s fantastic to know that our trans family are finding their voice. Allies are finding their voices to champion trans causes as well. Because for far too long, they’ve been excluded from the queer community. They are such a big, beautiful part of our community, we need to do all we can to make sure they enjoy equality as much as every other member of the queer community.”

Jacobs says while many in her family are wonderfully supportive there are still challenges. Jacobs too, has shifted in her expectations.

“When I came out, my mum said, ‘I’ll never be able to accept this, but I will always love you.’ At the time I thought that’s as far as it would go,” she reflects.

“I do feel like we should be more than ‘tolerant.'”

“Whereas now, I’m kind of thinking, ‘How’s that acceptance going?’ I do feel like we should be more than ‘tolerant.’ There should be acceptance, with love, you know? I love my mum, and I want a relationship with her. But I don’t want to set this unrealistic ultimatum that she’s going to accept my sexuality, when I just know that it would be too much of a compromise for her.

“So we’ve decided to agree to disagree over the years. It’s gotten a lot better though. She asks how Stevie is, and she’s always welcomed her at our home and that sort of thing. But we just can’t talk about our relationship or have big displays of affection in front of her.

“A lot of families are the same.”

Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand.
Full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV.

Gay & Lesbian Switchboard
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

4 Responses

  1. Nice interview David. Society needs more role models like her. Narelda has a very strong screen presence which I like but not the shouty newsreader style that Ten favours. Sandra Sully too. I’ve noticed it has become much more declamatory in tone and volume! Thankfully Chris Bath has a more natural style.

    Kudos to Narelda for her courage.

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