For 20 years of their friendship, Helen Vickers watched her friend face homophobia and overcome it, only to have her strength dissolved in recent weeks thanks to Australia’s postal survey on marriage equality.
So she came up with a sweet idea to show her best mate and LGBTI people in their home town they are loved.
Vickers and Emma Osborne grew up in Castlemaine, a country town about 130kms (80 miles) north-west of Melbourne.
‘Em and I have been friends for 20 years. During high school there was a lot of homophobic banter thrown around,’ Vickers told Gay Star News.
‘Not directly at Emma, but the sort of comments that made her feel unsafe about coming out sooner. We’ve talked a lot over the years about the effects this had on her.’
Since their high school days, Osborne had been living a happy life in Melbourne until the postal survey was announced.
Like many other Australians, the public debate about her personal life has had a negative impact on Osborne’s mental health.
Mental health services have held urgent meetings because of dramatic increases to the demand for their services since the survey was announced.
‘I saw how much Em was struggling with the long drawn out process. This is someone who is surrounded by a strong support network of queer or queer-friendly people, yet the messages of hate were sneaking in,’ Vickers said.
‘So I started to think about how powerful it would be if I could get our home town to come out in support of her.
‘Or as I put it to her, ‘let’s build a motherfucking shrine to your awesomeness and to the awesomeness of all the LGBT peeps who are dear to us’.’
Stuck in bed with flu and fighting homophobic trolls online, Vickers came up with a novel way to send a message of support.
She set up Letters Of Love, a public display of support for LGBTI people in Castlemaine. Locals are encouraged to write a love letter to those dear to them explaining why they’ll be voting ‘yes’.
‘This can be in any form they like, letter, poetry, artwork, etc. The most important thing is that the reader can connect with the person and their story. We want to show the people who are affected by this survey,’ Vickers said.
Businesses were then asked to post the letters in their shopfronts for the whole community to see.
Reclaim the postal service
‘I had been sitting on the idea for a couple of weeks, but it was seeing the toll that it was having on my oldest and dearest friend that kicked me into action,’ Vickers said.
‘The postal service has a long be a way to connect people – through letters being sent home from wars, children’s artwork being sent to grandparents, friends sending birthday and get well cards.
‘It’s such a cruel juxtaposition that it’s now being used to seek the permission of the nation for a small section of the community to have equal rights. So I starting thinking about how we could reclaim the postal service.’
Vickers makes sure there is no hate mail before the letters are posted around town. She was happy to report, so far everything received has been very positive.
I get so emotional
As for Osborne, she was overwhelmed with Vickers idea.
‘Helen’s support is incredible… and I’ve always known that we could count on each other when things got rough,’ Osborne said.
‘She’s such a strong person who will fight for what’s right with everything she has.
‘The thought of my home town being covered in letters of support is absolutely beautiful. I hope that they help, that they’re a little bit of love and light in the middle of this atrocious period.’
You’ve got mail
If you’d like to send a letter to someone in Castlemaine (or the LGBTI community generally) the address is:
Letters of Love
c/o Castlemaine Community House
PO Box 386
Castlemaine, Victoria AUSTRALIA 3450