THE road to acceptance for the LGBTQIA+ community has been long and painful for many around the world.
From the days of secrecy to pride festivals and the legislation of marriage equality, the community is becoming more visible and more widely accepted, even in regional areas.
Max Walters and Graham Watson both moved to Ballarat due to a love of its history and of the architecture, but also because it is becoming known as a welcoming place for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
In the next step in his retirement, former history teacher and event manager Mr Watson moved to Ballarat, where he has been living for a year.
He had been to Ballarat many times before deciding to move to regional Victoria and settling on Ballarat.
Though he had experienced an incident of homophobic abuse in Ballarat several years ago, it was the result of the plebiscite revealing 70 per cent of Ballarat voters were in support of marriage equality that confirmed where he would move.
It was a big decision to move to regional Victoria on his own, but through becoming involved in Frolic Festival and volunteering at Vinnies, he has immersed himself in community and made plenty of friends.
Mr Walters, meanwhile, has been living and volunteering in Ballarat for five years. Though he grew up in Victoria, he has lived around Australia including in Central Queensland for 20 years, Sydney and Tasmania.
He has experienced much hardship due to being a gay man. Living in Sydney, aged 31, he came out of the closet. When he moved up to Queensland in 1988 it was still illegal to be gay and the world was in the midst of a HIV scare, with the World Health Organisation announcing the previous year that 5-10 million people were living with HIV around the world.
One day he was arrested, thrown in jail and subsequently felt he had to go back into the closet. Most difficult of all was calling his parents to tell them that not only was he in jail, but he was in jail because he is gay.
But he remained in Queensland, despite the challenges. To have a community function up in Queensland meant putting black plastic over the windows so people wouldn't know what kind of function was happening inside, to being egged and questioned by police for simply sitting with another man in a park.
"I knew the struggle it was to try to be who you are in a town that really doesn't accept you," he said.
Many years on and the community was able to find a safe place to gather and the police became its supporters, while Mr Walters went on to work as an outreach worker and became one of the LGBTQIA+ elders in Rockhampton.
Mr Watson also faced many similar challenges. He was beaten up on the streets of Sydney three times in the 1970s and 80s and has faced other forms of discrimination since then.
Back in the day, the only way one could find the LGBTQIA+ community was by being 'beat aware', so finding the local park or other place where people would meet because they couldn't simply go to a coffee shop.
Mr Walters said one of the sad legacies as a result of that history was that many people of his generation were still afraid of being out and proud, with many only attending a carnival day or pride parade, rather than other events throughout the year.
"The younger generation are coming through without any of that knowledge or understanding of what we have had to go through - how we cherish these moments of being able to have an activity or festival like Frolic," he said.
For ages we were in fear of being sacked, egged, our houses being vandalised and sometimes, even for our lives.Max Walters
Both men are volunteers with the upcoming Frolic Festival, through which they have made many friends, while Mr Walters, or Dame Maxene, will even host a crochet workshop.
Mr Watson said festivals like Frolic were fantastic as they highlighted that attitudes are changing and that the LGBTQIA+ community can be more visible.
"The festival shows that we are just as much a part of the community as everybody else," he said.
Frolic Festival will kick off Thursday, November 8. For more information and to book tickets, visit frolicfestival.org
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