Drag festival helps to make regional Australia more inclusive

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Twenty-five years since The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert shone a light on homophobia in the outback, the landscape has changed in regional Australia.

Broken Hill’s Broken Heel Festival over the weekend shone bright as an example of how attitudes toward the LGBTQI+ community were changing.

This year’s headline act Carol ‘Carlotta’ Spencer was one of the artists who inspired the Priscilla film and toured regional towns like Broken Hill 40 years ago.

She said the success of a drag festival was unimaginable at the time.

“Whoever thought it’d be such a phenomenon?” she said.

“It means a lot. It was hard when I first started off, fighting for acceptance, but it’s all changed beautifully and I’m very happy with it.”

A more inclusive outback

Broken Heel has become so popular that this year it sold out for the first time.

The town’s Mayor, Darriea Turley, said Broken Hill had become a more inclusive city.

“It makes our young kids safer,” she said.

“Those young kids that are coming through, it makes it safe to tell their story.”

Dell Wilson, who travelled from Orange to enjoy the event, said she had noticed a change in regional Australia in the two years since the marriage equality plebiscite.

“There’s a lot more people coming out and happy to,” she said.

“People are coming together, they’re more accepting, they join in the fun.

“It’s happy, it’s joyful, it’s beautiful really.”

A welcome break from drought

The influx of visitors brought a reprieve for Broken Hill’s drought-stricken economy.

Councillor Turley said local businesses had embraced the festival enthusiastically.

“Every shop I walk past, if there’s not a rainbow flag there’s a flamingo,” she said.

Local chef Lee Checchin said the LGBTQI+ community had brought much welcome business to the town.

“It’s brought a lot of tourism, a lot more people are coming here to see where the film was actually made,” she said.

The festival featured free events for the general public, including a parade down the town’s main street that this year saw a record crowd of 2,000 spectators.

Ms Checchin said the festival brought some long overdue fun to the town, which had suffered one of its driest years.

“Because so many people descend on Broken Hill around the festival, [locals] dress up and come out and it’s just a great atmosphere,” she said.