EACH’s Rural Rainbows program given nod for promoting health

Rural Rainbows has won the Victorian Public Healthcare Award for excellence in supporting healthy LGBTIQA+ Victorians. Picture: ON FILE

By Callum Ludwig

For the difference it has made to the health of LGBTIQA+ residents of the outer east, EACH’s Rural Rainbows program has been recognised.

Rural Rainbows recently won a Victorian Public Healthcare Award for excellence in supporting healthy LGBTIQA+ Victorians.

Rural Rainbows project officer Teddy Easdown said it was very exciting and wonderful to have the efforts of their team recognised, especially the Volunteer Peer Leaders and the participants at the heart of the project.

“Our collaborative model with our participants makes the greatest contribution to their health. Young LGBTIQA+ people are the experts on their own lived experiences. Rural Rainbows shifts to meet the needs of those attending, so we have developed the group from initial guest speaker events to peer-led workshops and opportunities for young LGBTIQA+ people to learn new skills amongst local people like themselves,” he said.

“The community they have built by connecting with one another and sharing their feedback with project leadership has seen the most improvement for the space and empowers young LGBTIQA+ people to shape the services they need.”

Other finalists for the award were Mercy Health’s Safe Space Victorian clinic, which is the first publicly funded gynaecological service for transgender patients and the Parkville Electronic Medical Record (EMR) Diversity and Inclusion Project which was 12-month initiative between the Royal Children’s Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Royal Women’s Hospital to update their patient systems to better capture gender identity, legal sex, sex at birth, sexual orientation, pronouns and chosen names.

Mr Easdown said he thinks promoting health for LGBTIQA+ is very important.

“Rural Rainbows provides a supportive space for the local community to come together to promote their health and wellbeing; the greater challenge is making the whole of our Yarra Ranges and Outer East community a supportive space,” he said.

“I love that we are fostering confidence, connection, and community in Rural Rainbows, but the ideal would be that every time a young LGBTIQA+ person leaves the space, they trust that they can be totally themselves everywhere they go,”

“If we can improve community health with fortnightly or monthly groups, imagine the impact the Yarra Ranges could make with educational speakers, local groups for parents and carers, localised LGBTIQA-friendly medical services, and more?”

Rural Rainbows held its first meeting at the former Lilydale Youth Hub in April 2022 and due to its popularity and a desire to make the program more accessible throughout the region, expanded to Yarra Junction earlier this year and is set to come to Healesville in early 2024.

Mr Easdown said the best part of Rural Rainbows has been seeing the growth of many of our participants over the span of the project.

“There are some young people in particular that I met as a Volunteer Peer Leader who I now know as a Project Officer, and their development has been so meaningful to watch and be an active support of,” he said.

“Initially quiet participants now attend at every opportunity and always have a new story to share. I love it, especially when someone brings a new friend, showing how their connections are growing outside of the space as well as within it.”

Anyone interested in joining a Rural Rainbows group or finding out more about it is encouraged to reach out to Project Officers Mr Easdown and Cath Arms at ruralrainbows@each.com.au.

Mr Easdown said now more than ever they want to continue their efforts.

“I would love to acknowledge Adrian Teh, who founded the project in 2021 which has gone on to have such a powerful impact in 2023, and Finn Stirling for being a supportive, friendly lead for Rural Rainbows throughout 2022,” he said.

“I’d also like to thank Ally Greenwood and Debbie Stanley from EACH for supporting the project through its fast development to where it is today,”

“It means so much for our participants, for our Volunteer Peer Leaders, and for myself as a young person who would have loved to attend this group if it had been around back in my own school years.”