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Narelda Jacobs: What It's Like To Come Out When Your Father Is A Pastor

It's been such a joy being in Sydney for the build up to the biggest event on the LGBTIQA+ calendar.

Rainbow flags proudly on show in cafe windows, shop awnings, apartment balconies, rooftops. International and interstate visitors arriving by the thousands. The countdown to the best night of year has begun!

But Mardi Gras is so much more than an incredible party. It sends a message to the world that being LGBTIQA+ isn't just normal -- it's fabulous! It brings people from all walks of life together to celebrate diversity and freedom at a time when we need it the most.

My first Mardi Gras experience was in 1998 as a 21 year old. I'd just come out to my devastated family. The revelation broke my mother's heart.

Narelda Jacobs

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How I Told My Conservative Christian Parents I Was Gay

Coming out is tough at the best of times.

I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian. My dad was a reverend of the Uniting Church and I attended born-again churches until my late teens.  I was told homosexuals would go to hell for their sin. I was told AIDS was sent by God to punish gays and that as a Christian I had a duty to save them from eternal condemnation.

While praising the Lord and thanking Him for dying on the cross for my salvation, I was hiding a dark secret. I was attracted to women. I lived in fear of spending eternity in the fires of Hell, so I buried my sexuality deep in the closet. I had convinced myself I was straight -- but I couldn't pretend forever.

After a wedding at 18 years old, a baby at 19 and a marriage separation shortly after, I started to explore who I really was. Thanks to open-minded friends, I finally saw the light and the LGBTIQA+ community was waiting with open arms.

Fortunately for me, my family's love overpowered their shock, tears and grief and rather than being shunned, my sexuality was tolerated. More than two decades later I enjoy a close relationship with all members of my family. My mum still prays for me, but she knows never to tell me who I can love.

Narelda with her partner Stevie Cruz-Martin at the Mardi Gras parade. (Image: Supplied)

No one should have that power over someone else's heart. No one should preach that members of our community are of the devil, are damned, or that children of same-sex couples are deprived. No one should preach that the bushfire crisis was sent as our punishment.

LGBTIQA+ people have the right to live, work and play free from hate, even when that hate hides behind "religious freedom". We have the right to access medical facilities, fertility and HIV treatment. To be married under the very equality laws Australia voted for just over two years ago.

It's ridiculous to me to have to point this out, but sadly, these are the rights and freedoms we need to fight to maintain, especially as the Religious Discrimination Bill threatens to wind back Australia's equality clock.

Narelda with Stevie (L) and Jacqueline Pelczar (R) at the Mardi Gras parade. (Image: Supplied)

My first Mardi Gras all those years ago was like a pilgrimage. It allowed me to stand proud as a lesbian. It gave me a strong sense of belonging and identity. The same arms that welcomed me over two decades ago have welcomed countless others.

This year, the theme of the celebration is "What Matters" -- and what matters is each other. What matters is being mindful of what we can all do to make our country a better and more inclusive place -- rather than a more divided one.

In 2020, I'm looking forward to giving all my love to this beautiful and generous community. Let's celebrate together.

Studio 10’s Narelda Jacobs will host the 2020 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade alongside Joel Creasey, Courtney Act and Zoe Coombs Marr live on Saturday 29 February at 7.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.