Posted: 03 May 2018 15 min. read

Human rights, politics and putting diversity under the spotlight

Delving into aviation, politics and more, we caught up with Tony Briffa, Deputy Mayor of Hobsons Bay City Council and one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders of 2018. From paving the way for intersex representation to putting diversity on everyone’s agenda, Tony provided insights on how authenticity can fuel change, progress, diversity and inclusion.

You’ve been an intersex human rights activist for over 19 years – what should everyone know about the topic of intersex?

What they should know is one intersex story isn’t representative of another. There are many variations overall. Ultimately intersex is about biology and about a person being born biologically not what is traditionally expected of a male or female. Some like myself are happy saying I am not fully male or female – I am both. The majority of intersex people however are either male or female and most are heterosexual.

What are some of the challenges you have overcome?

There is no doubt I have had to put up with homophobia and abuse, but that has been few and far between since first being elected 10 years ago. I have been repeatedly elected and the community is wonderful. When I see the rainbow flag fly above the Council or local people come up and talk to me about being LGBTI or a loved one that is LGBTI, I feel inspired and grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to affect change in my community. By and large the community is very supportive and our actions show that there is nothing to fear about LGBTI people.

In 2012 we were the second Council in Australia to support Marriage Equality. It’s about people seeing what it means and finding out that we are fabulous and just like everyone else – with a little bit of glitter perhaps – and we deserve the same rights and opportunities.

Visibility is key: any insights into how we can reach out to young intersex people?

Accurate awareness is one of those things we need to do. There is legislation that distressingly allows discrimination against intersex people. We need to raise awareness of what intersex is – and that there is nothing untoward about it, it’s a natural variation. The fact intersex children continue to have their human rights denied in hospitals around Australia must stop.

How has Hobson Bay City Council embraced you?

I think the important thing is the community has embraced me and the Council has embraced the LGBTI community. The Council has collectively shown leadership across all of the Western Suburbs by holding LGBTI community forums, participating in Midsumma and the Queer Film Festival, holding numerous local events and building a local LGBTI community.

The Council’s services have also changed to reflect the acceptance of LGBTI people. From unisex toilets to flying the rainbow flag and posters of same sex families in our childcare centres, we have embraced inclusivity. When it comes to booking wedding functions we don’t assume the couple is male and female – we use photography and language that embraces all. Everyone can feel welcome and included in Hobsons Bay.

When it comes to language, what tips would you give to others out there?

My first thing is to know the difference between trans and intersex and don’t assume a person is either one. Respectfully asking the person you are talking to about their experience and pronouns can be helpful. Don’t assume that intersex people are gender diverse, non-binary, gay or lesbian. Intersex people, like the rest of society, are very diverse.

If we take a look at sex or gender, there is sometimes an expectation that you have to be feminine to be a woman, but some women are also masculine. They are women nonetheless. A variety of women need to be celebrated, included intersex women!

What piece of advice would you give your 10 year old self?

I would tell my 10 year old self about my body and intersex variation, and reassure myself that my life will be wonderful. I would not have believed that I would become Mayor or that I would travel the world and have an aviation career. Sadly, because of my differences and being made to feel like a freak, at 10 I would never have thought I would have relationships or be able to foster children in the future.

What has been your greatest lesson in life so far?

Just be genuine and be yourself. You will be rewarded for that because people actually like that. The power of communication and truth is amazing. Accepting faults, acknowledging the faults and being human is key.

What is your favourite song and why?

The soundtrack to Priscilla: Queen of the Desert – my poor work colleagues! It takes me to such a happy place. The album takes me back to a time in my life when I was 26 and I started being out and about.

Tony is one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders of 2018 – a list that recognises and celebrates the many LGBTI role models in business. For more on our inspirational LGBTI leaders visit our Outstanding 50 webpage, or read more interviews in the series.

Tony Briffa

More about the author

Neil Glaser

Neil Glaser

Head of Editorial, The Agency, Deloitte

Neil is Head of Editorial in The Agency (Deloitte’s Creative Studio) and is passionate about words and the power of storytelling. He loves working in the creative heartbeat of an organisation to bring ideas to life through dynamic, engaging and cutting-edge content. As a creative professional with global expertise in London, New York and Sydney, he connects and unleashes ideas across a diversity of formats. He adores writing, strategy and design.