The Coming Back Out Ball - a spectacular social event celebrating LGBTI elders.
In October 2017, during Australia’s divisive same sex marriage postal vote, over 520 LGBTI elders and their allies assembled at Melbourne Town Hall, one of Melbourne’s iconic civic spaces, as guests of honor at the inaugural Coming Back Out Ball. This large-scale social transformation project celebrating LGBTI elders (65+) was the culmination of three years of work. The aim was to connect LGBTI elders around Australia together as part of a engaged social movement; a creative intervention that saw this diverse community assert its social agency, value and worth within a mainstream, often homophobic, lesbophobia, biphobia transphobic and ageist paradigm.
Created by All The Queens Men, The Coming Back Out Ball was free for LGBTI elders to attend; each received a three course dinner and drinks with entertainment from leading LGBTI performers such as Robyn Archer, Carlotta, Deborah Cheetham, Toni Lalich, Gerry Connolly amongst others. The event was directed by Cameron Menzies, supported by an orchestra conducted by Kathleen McGuire.
The Coming Back Out Ball was inspired by research that revealed some LGBTI elders conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity when accessing aged care services because they don’t believe they are safe. With so much change over the course of their lifetime, LGBTI elders have lived through a period when being LGBTI could result in imprisonment, enforced medical ‘cures’, loss of employment and rejection by family and friends. For this generation, the first to fight for equality, impending old age may mean going back into the closet, or the risk of being deprived companionship or quality care when they need it most.
The Coming Back Out Ball was designed as a gift to acknowledge this community for their resilience and to celebrate their varied lived experience.
The Coming Back Out Ball addressed the significant issue of isolation and loneliness plaguing elderly populations; which is even more acute for LGBTI elders. As such, All The Queens Men established a number of ongoing outreach strategies, such as LGBTI Elders Dance Club, which has run every month since 2016 (2000+ elders have attended). By partnering with social service organisations, The Coming Back Out Ball inspired a national conversation and demonstrated how the creative arts can instigate social change and transformation.
Developed over three years, the artistic process was innovative in the way All The Queens Men invited the community to be creative stakeholders, where performance was used as a catalyst to affect larger social change. The Coming Back Out Ball augmented research and social services by providing a platform of public celebration and declaration of LGBTI elders value and worth. It was a chance for a community to be seen and heard, a direct response to issues of invisibility.
The Coming Back Out Ball was held during a significant moment in Australia – the Same Sex Marriage Postal Vote. The event brought the community together at a time when LGBTI rights were at the centre of media and public debate on either side of the divisive issue. To counter this, The Coming Back Out Ball established an international media campaign of LGBTI elder visibility, which reached over three million people around the world. The campaign combated negative media stereotyping, focusing on individual LGBTI elders stories to personalise CBOB and inspire change.
The Coming Back Out Ball celebrated stories of resilience and strength of LGBTI elders; stories from pioneers who bravely came out of the closet when homosexuality was still illegal or LGBTI elders who by fearing recrimination, rejection or violence weren’t able to come out until later in life.