Siri May’s response to her inclusion on this year’s Same Same 25 list seems typical of the kind of person she is. While surprised, humbled, and overwhelmed, the 28-year-old still puts her work in the area of lesbian health first. Siri says the most exciting thing for her is the way the 25 highlights the issues behind the nominated individual.
“I think [the initiative] is a really positive force, because in terms of what I do, positive visibility and shedding light on the issues is really exciting and crucial to the health and well-being of same-sex attracted women,” says Siri. While she is the co-ordinator of lesbian women’s health projects at ACON, it’s obvious her enthusiasm and dedication extends beyond her paid role.
Siri began volunteering with the community health organisation in 2004 and between volunteering, and taking up a paid position in 2007, Siri has been studying full-time to complete a degree in economics and social science which she finished only a few weeks ago.
“It’s been a challenge!” says Siri of the last few years and of her time in women’s health, a pursuit that grew organically out of passion and interest. “I’m a naturally curious human being and I usually go wherever that takes me. I answered an ad in LOTL years ago asking for people to speak to high-school students about being a same-sex attracted youth… and it’s just gone from there.”
Approached by ACON to come on board and be one of two women to start a lesbian health project a few years ago, Siri says it almost became a full-time job with the sheer amount of work that needed to be done, “before we received a tiny tiny little bit of funding to employ someone part-time to run the project.”
Siri says since ACON started broadening its agenda from its traditional base of HIV and the sexual health of men, they’ve “really seen major growth in terms of the visibility of our lesbian health work. It’s no longer just a discreet concept or a box added on to a bigger organisation.”
But where Siri’s work has broken completely new ground is her part in developing the Lesbian Health Strategy, Turning Point, launched by ACON in October 2008. A three-year plan, it’s an Australian, and possibly even world, first in terms of putting a spotlight on lesbian health and calling for action in an area that has been “under-recognised and under researched”.
“It really ties back to that concept of invisibility,” says Siri. “Gay men were pathologised and criminalised, the HIV epidemic meant they were pathologised even more, and lesbians really didn’t exist in those discourses in medicine or law. It’s about writing ourselves in. When you work in an evidence based society, we need to write in those aspects of our experiences, so that we can relay it back to our government and our system, so we can hold them accountable for our health and well-being. Addressing [lesbian health] as a real issue.”
While admitting that broadening ACON’s role in the community was a controversial move, Siri says its debate around those kinds of issues that motivate her. “I think working in the gay community can have a lot of challenges. There’s a multitude in differences of opinions, but it’s actually this constructive conflict that can be really influential and motivates me.
“So many of the battles our community has fought really demonstrates a culture of care - decriminalisation of homosexual sex, the first Mardi Gras – the best part of my work is connecting in with that diversity and history, and being part of a community that looks after each other and respects the battles that have come before us.”
The three year plan that Siri helped implement is now being used by other Australian states. “Some are using it as a template and building it up there, others are just taking aspects… but any information or planning or evidence is up for sharing, because this is just something that has never been done before.”
And Siri hasn’t just had an influence in Australia. She’ll also be heading to San Francisco soon to talk about the Lesbian Health Project, which has gained attention overseas.
So what’s on the horizon for Siri? She says her future lies in “seeing the Lesbian Health Strategy implemented, so it has some substance and longevity.” And beyond that? “I just want to continue contributing to the world around me and learning,” she says.
By Joel Bryant
The Same Same 25 is an annual celebration of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians. They are publicly nominated, and chosen by a panel of community leaders.
For the past two years, the announcement of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians has attracted widespread national media attention and focused on the achievements and influence of a varied and inspirational group of people.