Growing up in a small town on New Zealand’s South Island, Tony Lane always knew he was different. “But I didn't really understand what that meant”, he says.
“Whilst other eight-year-old boys wanted to be Batman, I wanted to be Wonder Woman. So my mother made my older brother a Batman outfit and me a Wonder Woman one.”
As a clinical manager for Aspen Medical, he’s now based in Darwin after many years of nursing experience in Australia and New Zealand, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. In sharing his story for National Pride Month, Tony says his life experience may be similar to others in the LGBTQIA+ community, with one important distinction.
His flamboyant and outgoing nature saw him bullied at school. “I was very camp and they used to call me a girl. I was lucky, though, because I had a beautiful family and friends and felt supported and loved. That was the key.”
It wasn't until he was about 16 that Tony realised why he didn’t have a girlfriend, like his peers. “That was not for me, not my bag of chips. I liked men.”
Born in the 1970s, Tony was exposed to media reporting on HIV and AIDS. “There was a lot of scaremongering and finger-pointing and I wondered whether I was going to get the ‘gay cancer’. It was a frightening time.”
Things have changed significantly since the days people would yell “faggot” or “homo” at Tony. “There’s widespread acceptance today and Aspen Medical now has a strategy for diversity and inclusion which is wonderful to see.”
What a contrast to previous times. It’s hard to believe that male homosexuality was not decriminalised in Tasmania until 1997, other States and Territories doing so from 1975 - South Australia – to 1991 – Queensland.
Today’s climate is one of respect. Tony thinks it’s vital not to impose one’s values and beliefs on others. “They need to be their authentic self. I’m not going to judge anyone’s sexual orientation or religion, for example.” When he worked in the Torres Strait, the locals called him ‘Sister Girl.’ “They said it affectionately. It was their lovely way of knowing, and accepting me for who I am.
“I’ve found that if you’re a genuine and caring health professional, people will respond and also open up. As health practitioners, we may have to ask detailed and intimate questions to obtain a medical history and I’ve found people feel comfortable about disclosing information to me.”
Tony was delighted when same-sex marriage in Australia was made legal in December 2017. “Marriage, for love and legal protection, is important as a human right. I’ve seen situations where one person in a couple dies, after decades together, and the family comes in and takes everything.”
And he’s thrilled with the rainbow logo on email signature blocks, “a positive acknowledgement. Even a few years back, a mainstream corporate company wouldn't be doing that. It’s great, it’s awesome, it’s affirming.”
But there’s still a long way to go. “I’d encourage people to be allies, be brave and call things out. Using derogatory language even in a light-hearted way can affect someone present. If I hear, “That’s so gay,” I’ll reply, “Is that happy or joyful?
“In Pride Month we celebrate how far we have come, since the landmark 1969 Stonewall riots by members of the gay community in Greenwich Village, New York. Now we have an annual Mardi Gras in Sydney which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, and television viewers worldwide. How good is that?”
Together, the light at the end of the rainbow shines brightly.