real life

Narelda Jacobs was pushed into her first marriage. 20 years later, she had to fight for the right to a second.

As a journalist, Narelda Jacobs isn’t one to wave flags or to shout about political issues. But the Perth newsreader will always speak up when she feels it’s truly needed. 2017 was one of those times.

As Australians debated proposed marriage equality legislation, Narelda, the first queer Indigenous woman to anchor a commercial news bulletin, lent her profile as a prominent Channel 10 personality to advocate for the ‘Yes’ vote, compelled by the discord within her own family. Her own mother, a former church pastor, was firmly on the ‘No’ side.

“I wasn’t making a political statement. It was a personal statement,” she told Mamamia. “I wanted to be given the chance to marry the woman of my dreams, just as much as a heterosexual couple would. And what was interesting was that in my own family, it was a situation that was getting played out across Australia, where you had division [on the issue]. People weren’t speaking to each other, because one was a ‘Yes’ voter and one was a ‘No’ voter.

“Of course, in the end the ‘Yes’ vote got up. So in the end, it didn’t matter that my mum voted ‘No’. It wasn’t a relationship that I wanted to destroy, because I knew that we would never be able to persuade each other for each other’s camp.”

Mamamia OutLoud look back down the long road to marriage equality…

Though she may not have persuaded her mother, Narelda was intent on challenging, questioning, the motivations of ‘No’ campaign. After all, many of those who crowed about the ‘threat to the sanctity of marriage’, were driven by the same conservative ideology that steered her into an unhappy one two decades earlier.

At the age of 18, Narelda had fallen pregnant to her then-boyfriend.

“As an impressionable and pregnant teenager, there was a bit of pressure to get married to save face for the family and for myself, to be a ‘respectable’ mother,” she said. “My parents came from a position of good faith, and for purely innocent reasons they wanted the child to be brought into what they saw as a family unit.

“That marriage, of course, didn’t last for very long – six months. So 20 years down the track, at a time when I would like to be given the same right to enter into a legal relationship with someone that I would want to spend the rest of my life with, to be told ‘you can’t do it’… It’s just incredible to think that level of discrimination was happening in Australia in current times.”

This weekend, rainbow flags will wave in the face of that kind of prejudice for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. And Narelda will be co-hosting SBS’s Sunday night broadcast alongside comedians Joel Creasy and Zoë Coombs-Marr, and The Feed’s Patrick Abboud.

Mardi Gras will this year turn 41. Image: Getty.
ADVERTISEMENT

"Mardi Gras for me means seeing people, tens and tens of thousands of people, lining the sides of Oxford Street. They are parents who brought their young children. They're groups of teenagers hanging out together. They're grandparents with their grandchildren. They're elderly people who've been camping out all day to watch the floats go by. They're heterosexual people saying they recognise the need to celebrate diversity just as much as members of our own community do. And that's what's most heartwarming, I think," the mother-of-one said.

"And yes, it is a huge party. You know, everybody looks amazing and beautiful. But it's the celebration of diversity from all walks of life that sends a message to Australia and the world that being LGBTQI isn't just OK, it's fabulous."

Of course, it won't ignore the origins of the parade, which began as a small protest 41 years ago. One that ended with participants being arrested and beaten.

"Even though we have marriage equality, there's still discrimination out there for members of our community, and it affects their everyday life. It affects them getting jobs, it affects walking down the street, it affects them getting served in shops and accessing services," she said. "There are some really important stories out there to tell. And I will be telling them in the coverage."

Narelda says she's been fortunate in her career, including ten years behind the newsdesk, to have avoided being the target of discrimination. But she knows that isn't the reality for many other queer and First Nations women. For them, and for young LGBTQI people, she has this advice:

"The theme of Mardi Gras this year epitomises it all. Fearless. You need to be your true authentic self. So don't worry about what other people think or how they view you. That that's the biggest message. Just be fearless."

The SBS broadcast of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will air at 8:35pm on Sunday 3rd March.

00:00 / ???