WHEN Richard Conheady was a young man growing up in Noorat and struggling with his sexuality, his father gave him some precious advice.
“My dad once said to me ‘if you don’t fit in here, so what, don’t change, there’s a whole world out there’,” he said. “It is possible to thrive and grow and be who you are, that’s really what this is all about. It’s about recognising there are people that don’t have the same opportunities and inequality still exists.”
With a postal vote on same-sex marriage set for next month, the Noorat publican this week took to Facebook to urge Wannon residents to let local federal MP Dan Tehan know their thoughts on marriage equality.
Mr Conheady and his partner Michael Leo have owned the Mount Noorat Hotel for three years and said he had deliberately remained quiet on the issue because he didn’t want to alienate anyone. However, as the debate has continued, particularly in the media, Mr Conheady said he couldn’t sit idly by.
“We are constituents of Wannon, we are people directly affected by it and we’re not the only people affected in our area that are directly affected by this,” he said. “Michael has been in Noorat for three years full time. I work in Melbourne and I’m home every weekend and we’ve poured a lot of our time and money into trying to make the town as thriving as it once was.”
He said there were people investing in the region that didn’t share the same views as those being aired by elected representatives and it was important they were heard. “To us it’s equality and a step forward for equality,” he said. “We’re not a minority, we’re ratepayers, we own businesses, we employ people in the community and we put money back into the community.”
Mr Conheady said he had experienced first-hand bullying and homophobia while growing up in Noorat, but he had love and acceptance from his family.
“As time went on I accepted who I was,” he said. “I came home more and more, my family were so supportive of me... they were progressive Catholics, it didn’t destroy their faith in the church they just didn’t believe every tenet of the faith.”
He said he hoped his experience demonstrated to young people in the south-west that they weren’t alone and there was always hope.
“For me, Noorat is and always will be my home, regardless of where I end up,” he said. “My family have been there since 1897... outside of the school and adolescent part, it was a wonderful place to grow up surrounded by a loving family. That general love and acceptance from a family unit can really instill a child that’s struggling with their sexuality to realise there’s hope.”