Jacinta Clark was welcomed into the Pinnacle family in 2018 as one of our scholars. Her journey has come full circle, having been recently appointed as Pinnacle’s volunteer scholar liaison officer for South Australia. Jacinta is a proud bisexual woman and a 2020 recipient of Out for Australia’s 30 Under 30 Award. She is working as a junior doctor in Adelaide with hopes to specialise in gynaecology and sexual health. Jacinta is determined to share her story so that the next generation of young LGBTIQ+ Australians can have the representation and mentorship opportunities that she so needed when she was coming out as a 15-year-old girl in rural South Australia. Jacinta shares with us some of her story and what being part of The Pinnacle Foundation program has meant to her.
Tell us a little about your journey and how you became involved with The Pinnacle Foundation.
My first involvement with The Pinnacle Foundation was as a scholar. I applied to be a Pinnacle scholar on the recommendation of another scholar that I had met through some queer youth events in Adelaide. I completed seven years of university and did not apply until my final year because I felt that I might not need the scholarship as much as other people might need it. By the time I reached my last year of medical school I felt I really did need some financial support as in the last year of medical school there were a lot of full-time placements and I could not work. So, I was a scholar for one year and it was amazing. I was not ready to give up Pinnacle when my time was up, so I joined the State Committee and then organically ended up taking on the role of scholar liaison for South Australia.
I grew up in rural South Australia. I had some friends who had come out but certainly no adult role models. When I started to figure out my sexuality, I had quite good support from school and friends, in fact, my first girlfriend was from my group of friends and everyone was supportive of us once we eventually shared that with them. The worst reaction I got was from my parents, their reaction is still probably the worst one I have experienced as an out woman. I feel I need to specify, before I share, perhaps the one mistake my parents made because I have wonderful loving, supportive parents. I grew up in Mount Gambier but my parents grew up in two even smaller rural towns and when they learnt of my first relationship they reacted with a lot of anger and a lot of fear which was really quite scary as a 15 year old. That relationship has since healed and being older and wiser I can look back and realise that my parents grew up in a generation where queer representation was very limited. They grew up in a generation that saw the AIDS crisis, where being queer meant being fired from your job, and it meant being ostracised. Their experience of queerness was that you would struggle and suffer if you were gay. In their eyes me being gay meant that I would not have the happy, healthy, successful life that they wanted for me, so they reacted based on that assumption – with anger and fear. I am definitely lucky, as when my parents got to see that my queerness didn’t mean all of that our relationship healed – and my partner has since have been welcomed into their home and they were logged in on Zoom from Mount Gambier to see me receive my Out for Australia Award.
I talk a lot about how the most important part of the Pinnacle scholarship program is the role models that we give to our scholars, and that they get to see someone who is like them, doing what they want to do and how important that is. Growing up, I did not have those openly queer role models, and my parents did not have them either.
It is so important to me that I am open and vocal about being part of the LGBTIQ+ community, partly because my current partner is male and so I need to be vocal about being part of our community as it can be so easy for people to assume that I am not. Also, because I know how important LGBTIQ+ representation is for the next 15-year-old girl who comes out in a rural town like mine so that their coming out will not be the “bad news” to their parents that mine was as there is a role model that they can relate to who came out and had a successful and happy life. Role models are good for young LGBTIQ+ people to have and they are also good for the people around them to have a positive representation of our community. Representation is everything. Being 15 years old and not having anyone to look up to is such a scary space to be in.
The Pinnacle induction weekend was the first time that I had ever been in a room filled with LGBTIQ+ professionals, scholars, and mentors. I usually had to fight so hard to find those spaces and suddenly I was in a space where everyone in the room was queer and it was spectacular. My teenage experience, my experience of coming out, would have been so different if my parents had had that representation and those role models to look to. I became their role model and once they realised that I could be queer, successful, and happy, they gradually became very supportive and accepting. Our relationship has changed a lot, but I do know that our relationship would have been very different when I was 15, if my parents had had that understanding and knowledge back then.
What did you gain from being part of the Pinnacle scholarship program?
When I was younger, I struggled to find queer spaces that I really fitted into. Our South Australian Committee is a community of queer professionals that I connect with made up of people who I respect and look up to. There was no way that I was going to leave the Pinnacle South Australian family that we have here, they are my role models and friends. The people I have met through Pinnacle have been inspiring and fundamental in my journey as a queer woman. The Pinnacle Foundation has truly been like a family to me and now I have the chance to see the new scholars grow, change, and develop, which is so rewarding. I am so grateful to be part of The Pinnacle Foundation family and to be honest, I would give the money back just because the family and friendships that I have gained from being part of the Pinnacle program are far beyond anything I could have ever expected to receive. I have never had that queer family before, a family that is so accepting and accessible, and it has truly changed my life for the better.
What was your experience with your mentor like?
My mentor was great. She was far cooler than me. I was matched with a lesbian general practitioner here in Adelaide and she was new to the program, as was I, and we both learned how to navigate this new scholar mentor relationship that we had. My mentor came to the induction weekend which felt so special because she really put in the effort. We used to have coffee, it was not ever anything too formal, and it was a special relationship with someone who looked like I did and who was doing something I wanted to do and had been through the whole process of being in medicine as a queer woman.
I remember talking to her about being a bisexual woman and my identity within our community and she responded so profoundly with something that I will never forget, “Is that not the point, Jacinta? That we are allowed to love whoever we want to love.” She played an important part of my Pinnacle journey and I was so grateful to have been matched with a mentor that I could relate to on so many levels. I often say that the financial support from Pinnacle pales in comparison to the support of my mentor and the beautiful community that I have now become a part of which is the Pinnacle family.
What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about applying for the Pinnacle Foundation scholarship program?
You should apply.
As a queer young person, I do not think you realise how much of a difference those role models and that community and that family make until you have them. I didn’t apply for years because I liked boys too, so I was not queer enough, because I wasn’t out and proud enough, because my parents still loved me and did not kick me out of home when I came out, because someone else needed it more. I had so many reasons that I told myself which validated my feelings of not being deserving enough of a Pinnacle scholarship. But, once I was a part of this family, I hugely regretted that I had not applied sooner. The Pinnacle Foundation filled a massive hole that I did not realise was there.
And if you cannot convince yourself to do it for you, do it for the next person. We have incredible power as young queer people to make a difference to the next generation that will come through and The Pinnacle Foundation will give you the resources, the voice and the skills to make that impact and be a leader, to be that role model.
LGBTIQ+ youth are resilient, I see scholars experience discrimination that most people their age would not have considered, and I see them come through it with their heads held high. I see so many queer young people minimise that experience really not knowing how deserving they are of that support and community. So, if you are a young LGBTIQ+ person reading this (or know one!) I wholeheartedly encourage you to apply.