In support of Wear It Purple Day on 30 August, our Diversity and Inclusion Principal Kylie Fuller chats to Wear It Purple President and Director, Ross Wetherbee.
Our commitment to inclusion is championed by our Spectrum network, which creates opportunities for our LGBTI+ employees and allies to connect, both inside and outside Telstra. We’re a founding member of Pride in Diversity, an employer support program dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of LGBTI+ people. We also show our support by taking part in events such as Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival, Pink Dot in Hong Kong and Singapore, IDAHOBIT Day and Wear It Purple Day.
We’re a proud partner of Wear It Purple and their work to foster supportive, safe, empowering and inclusive environments for rainbow young people. Ahead of Wear It Purple Day this year, I chatted to President and Director of Wear It Purple, Ross Wetherbee, about his experience growing up and the importance of support networks and visible role models.
Kylie Fuller: What was it like for you growing up in regional NSW?
Ross Wetherbee: I felt lonely, fearful and anxious about the future during my adolescent years. I was not ‘out’ about my sexuality until I moved away from home to attended university; in high school, I quickly realised through the behaviours of my peers that being gay was not seen as a positive attribute.
The words ‘fag’, ‘poofter’ and more were commonplace put-downs, and the absence of any affirming signs or signals that it would be okay to be ‘out’ among my classmates relegated me to the ‘closet’.
I thought at that time that I could remain there forever.
KF: Was there anyone in your social circles at that time who you could identify with?
RW: There were no students in my year group who were same-sex attracted, let alone another LGBTI+ identity. At this time, in the late-90s, I had not even considered gender identity or thought of people who were transgender, and there was no visibility of transgender people where I grew up. It scares me to think about what someone who struggled with their gender identity at this time would have been thinking, feeling or experiencing.
KF: Have your family and friends been supportive?
RW: My parents were supportive of me in school and sporting endeavours, but I was not out to them. It’s not anything they did that kept me ‘in the closet’; I just can’t recall any actions or behaviours that encouraged me to leap out of it either. An organisation like Wear It Purple would have had a profound impact on my school and schooling experience.
I knew of kids in other schools who were out and they were bullied relentlessly, and I know of people who have died by suicide as a result of this kind of bullying.
KF: What do you want people to know about Wear It Purple?
RW: Wear It Purple is a youth-led non-profit organisation that strives to foster supportive, safe, empowering and inclusive environments for rainbow young people.
It was founded in 2010 in response to global stories of real teenagers, real heartache and their very real responses. In 2010, several rainbow young people took their own lives following bullying and harassment resulting from the lack of acceptance of their sexuality or gender identity.
Since 2010, Wear It Purple has developed into an international movement. New generations of rainbow young people continue to be dedicated to promoting the annual expression of support and acceptance to rainbow young people.
We’re unique in that we are an LGBTI+ youth charity that is 100 per cent volunteer-led and run, with not one paid employee. I’m so incredibly proud that we’re associated with Telstra and grateful for the support that Telstra provides, so we can support more and more rainbow young people and their schools every year.
Join us on Friday 30 August to celebrate Wear It Purple Day, and learn more about Wear It Purple at the Wear It Purple website.