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As Mardi Gras celebrations begin today, 10 talks to members of the LGBTQIA+ community to hear their unique stories. A celebration of self-expression, alongside a series of intimiate portraits photographed by Samuel Hodge.

Zoe Takala

“In my final year of high-school I went to one of those after HSC parties at a club in Kings Cross,” says Zoe Takala. “This person from another school who I vaguely knew was there and they were queer and I was instantly drawn to them… from that moment I just fell down the rabbit hole. It was a pretty instantaneous moment for me. For the first year or so, I hadn’t really told anyone in my family, not that I thought they would be against it, I knew they’d be fine but I kind of enjoyed having a secret almost – which you don’t really hear about that often. It was fun, like having a second adolescence because I’d only seen boys up until that point, so I was just running around having a lot of fun, hanging out with a lot of new queer friends. And then eventually I came out to my mum…

"...she coaxed it out of me,” says Zoe. “It was interesting to experience because I didn’t pick it at all. My mum was very chill she just made a joke and walked away. And that was it. If you know your parents are going to accept it, you don’t think it’s ever going to feel like there’s much to come out, but it does. It’s like bearing a weight on your shoulders you didn’t even know was there. A lot of people do feel this weight though. What makes me proud to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community is the way a large proportion of the community stands up for more marginalised identities. Both within and outside of the community. Because in my own experience, I haven’t personally faced many barriers - and I am conscious of this privilege. So using our experiences as a collective to lift up other voices is what makes me proud.”

Brady Etheridge

“When I officially came out to my mum, she had known I was gay,” says Brady Etheridge. “Now I feel like everyone who was close to me saw it coming. I never had a big moment; everyone knew I wasn’t straight. For me, it was more about accepting myself rather than being accepted by everyone else. It took a long time to know I was gay and to be okay with it. I grew up in QLD, my dad was African American and my mum was white Australian. I grew up with my white family, so it wasn’t until I moved to Sydney that I really learned what it meant to be a person of colour in the queer community…

“When I moved to Sydney I knew it was going to make a difference and be a big moment for me and my journey,” says Brady. “I suddenly had heaps of creatives, queer friends, black friends and just people of colour around me which is incredible and something I really never had before.  It wasn’t until then I really felt like I belonged somewhere. Sydney feels like home to me. I’m proud to be a black man in the LGBTQIA+ community. Being a minority or just growing up not being what is considered ‘normal' and then coming to terms with being yourself just gives you a different path in life. You become a different person, you have more empathy so it’s nice to be part of a community that gets what it’s like to not feel normal for so long and then be accepted. There’s a real community in that.”

Harry Barclay

When I “came out”, it was more like I just started being myself,” says Harry. “I stopped holding back around people and just did whatever felt right to me. I came out of my shell and I was in high school, just trying to survive and be a teenager whilst putting up with HEAVY bullying. On top of that I was dealing with my hearing with absolutely no support from the school. I was born deaf, and I was five years old when my parents noticed. It was only when I kept turning my Madre’s face whilst she was talking to me so that I could read her lips that they had realised I was different. It’s an alienating world to navigate being queer and receiving information differently due to my hearing, it makes everyday a challenge…

“I’m super proud of what i have done with my circumstances,” says Harry. "It can be very isolating and hard for most people to understand but I'm not stopping anytime soon. In my last couple years of high school, I met my three best friends, Rain, China & Mana who were the first people I had properly “come out” to. We were a close circle, we had each other and we kept it that way. We grew together as creative people. We were ambitious and were achieving our goals very early on. We support and uplift each other which keeps us balanced as individuals - this is what makes me proud to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community: the love, freedom and support we share. I think we find a lot of solace in each other. If anyone out there feels like they can’t keep up with others because of something personal anchoring them down - don’t be afraid. Don’t put yourself in a box because the secret is there isn’t one. Just *breathe* and do as you damn please. This world is yours.”

Nova Fletcher

“I was always a tomboy,” says Nova. “I always wore different clothes and was always skating, so in school I was always called a lesbian even though I didn’t know I was. Everyone just kind of had an idea and their set opinion of me before I even knew it myself. I was ridiculed and judged for that and I never had any close friends with any guys or girls because of those reasons but I just never really cared or worried about what other people thought I never gave them the power over me to make me feel bad about who I am…

“…I was lucky to grow up in a household with people who let me flourish and be who I am without calling it anything and putting any ideas in my head,” says Nova. "I figured out I liked girls a year ago… I don’t really have a coming out story, it just kind of happened and my family accepted it. I can see other people going through a hard time of it and I realise how lucky I am to have grown up in a household where this could come into fruition. I’m comfortable with who I am, and my sexuality is just a part of it. It’s not who I am but a part of who I am.”

Eden Gardenia

“Four years ago when I moved to Sydney a queen came over, she put me in a cute blonde wig and we took photos on the street,” says Eden. “I thought, I can see myself doing this… it was fun. I’d go out and watch my friends perform and started doing my makeup at home, eventually I started going out in drag. It’s been an ongoing journey but after I surrounded myself with more queer people it slowly started to progress for me and then last year I came out as non-binary…

“The obstacles I have faced come from me; trying not to talk down to myself and knowing I’m doing the best that I can with the resources I have,” says Eden. “I want to highlight the power and strength that comes from being queer, this unique idea of beauty… it’s like an untouchable thing. It takes nerve to get up on stage in front of people and entertain them. I never thought I would end up doing this… but once I’m on stage I just phase out and have a great time. It’s addictive and fulfilling.”


Photographed by Samuel Hodge

Styled by Peter Simon Phillips

Makeup by Claire Thomson

Hair by Fernando Miranda

Casting by Bec Khoury