Nic Steepe

Nic Steepe

Nic’s journey with The Pinnacle Foundation has come full circle – he began as a recipient of a Pinnacle scholarship in 2015, then he became a volunteer with Pinnacle in 2016 and now, as the Scholar Manager, he is a valued member of Pinnacle’s Management Committee. Nic shares with us his journey which saw him growing up in Regional Australia, overcoming the challenges faced by many young LGBTIQ+ Australians in regional areas, recently finishing his Masters of Social Work (Advanced Practice, Research/Dissertation strand) and being recognised for his work in advocacy and social justice. We, at The Pinnacle Foundation, couldn’t be prouder of Nic and all of his accomplishments.

Tell us a little about your journey and how you became involved with The Pinnacle Foundation.

I originally moved from Coolah in Rural NSW to Dubbo when I was ten years old. Growing up in a small town, I faced intense bullying due to my sexuality and this brought about struggles with my mental health which were compounded by the fact that I moved out of home with my two older brothers when I was 15.

Growing up and going into high school, I was really unsure of what I wanted to do and what I wanted to study in the future. All I knew at that time was that I have always loved education and I loved learning and even though there was turmoil in my personal life, I wanted more than anything to finish year 12 as I would be the first in my immediate family to do so.

When I was in year 12, I chose Society and Culture as one of my electives. In this class I met a wonderful teacher, Natalie Hudson, who saw the potential in me and believed in me – this support was something no-one had really shown me before and it had a big impact in my life at the time. It was so encouraging to hear my teacher always speak positively about the LGBTIQ+ community and share positive stories about what members of our community had achieved – these stories made me believe in myself and helped me see that I too could achieve great things in life. It was Natalie who first encouraged me to study Social Work after finishing high school, which I did when through a Pathways course in Diploma of Community Services.

During my last year at Uni, I spoke with Natalie who had come across The Pinnacle Foundation and she encouraged me to apply for a scholarship. By this stage I was becoming more and more involved in community events such as Reclaim the Night and I wanted to strengthen my connection with organisations that supported our community. At first, I was very nervous to apply, but I remember thinking that The Pinnacle Foundation Scholarship Program was a great opportunity for me and my academic future, but also a great platform to meet like minded LGBTIQ+ people. I was so excited and happy to be shortlisted for an interview and consequently offered a Pinnacle Scholarship. Being part of the Pinnacle Family has given me so much more confidence in my ability to have an impact in advocating for the LGBTIQ+ community and in my roles with Headspace Dubbo and as the Equity and Diversity Project Manager at Charles Sturt University (CSU).

My journey with The Pinnacle Foundation has come full circle, from being selected as a scholar to now being part of the Management Committee as Scholar Manager. The opportunities that The Pinnacle Foundation has offered me to grow, learn, gain wisdom and share my wisdom have been unparalleled and I am forever grateful that I was accepted in the Pinnacle Scholarship Program and became part of the Pinnacle family.

What did you gain most from being part of the Pinnacle program?

When I received my scholarship, I was working two jobs, one as a cleaner and one in retail, and had very limited time for much else. Working two jobs was essential because being a student, paying for living expenses, purchasing textbooks and any other university related costs can be incredibly expensive and stressful when managing a full-time course load. The Pinnacle Foundation scholarship funds allowed me to dedicate more time to my studies and my work supporting and advocating for young LGBTIQ+ Australians living in rural and regional areas. By removing the pressures and stress of struggling with finances, I was able to step into roles and situations where I could share my experience as a young member of the LGBTIQ+ community who grew up in a small town and speak about the experiences that I, and many others like me, have faced and overcome. I truly believe that because of my scholarship and all the new doors that were opened to me as part of being a Pinnacle scholar, I gained so much confidence and self-belief and this has helped me become the person I am today.

Another key thing that I have gained from my experience as part of the Pinnacle Program has been the lifelong friendships and connections that I have been able to create with fellow scholars, my mentor and the wider Pinnacle family. These connections have been vital to me in creating a strong sense of connection, community and belonging. I feel like I am part of something bigger than myself and we are all working towards advancing the rights of our LGBTIQ+ community members through education and knowledge. I also gained so much from my relationship with my mentor, in fact, we keep in touch to this day. Having someone who was doing wonderful things in his career, from a regional area like myself, that I could look up to and learn from was such a vital part and one of the highlights of my experience at Pinnacle – not only did I gain a mentor, I also gained a friend.

What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about applying for the Pinnacle Foundation Scholarship Program?

First and foremost, I would say there is no harm in trying. Before applying, I wasn’t sure I was deserving of a Pinnacle scholarship. I thought there may be candidates who needed the scholarship more than I did. I am glad that I followed through and applied, because it really has changed my life. One piece of advice that I would give to any young person considering applying would be to put down on paper your skills, attributes, abilities and contributions to the LGBTIQ+ community. These factors are ones that only you can bring to the table and are so needed in our community. By getting involved in programs such as The Pinnacle Foundation’s Scholarship Program you are contributing your valuable addition to our cause and your contribution is important, needed and worthwhile.

I want to encourage others from regional and rural areas all around Australia to apply – now more than ever we need representation in our communities. We need to show other young LGBTIQ+ Australians from these areas that they are not alone, that there are others just like us and that we can make a huge difference and have an impact in our communities for generations to come. It is important to remember that you have be authentic to yourself and bring your qualities to everything you do.

Can you share with us about what you are up to these days?

I am so thrilled to say that I have just finished my Masters degree! This is a huge achievement for me, and I am so happy that I have completed a course that I am passionate about and one that builds upon my dedication towards social justice. I have also completed a Post Grad in Project Management. Both my academic and life experiences have contributed to my current role as the Equity and Diversity Project Manager at CSU – a role that inspires me every day because I can have a practical and tangible impact in ensuring the development, implementation and delivery of projects that promote equity and diversity at CSU.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation and help build awareness around youth mental health, marriage equality, and to be able to advocate strongly for increased inclusion for LGBTIQA+ individuals in regional Australia. My work has offered me many opportunities to meet a diverse and wonderful mix of people who contribute so much to the LGBTIQ+ community. I have had the privilege and honour of being part of organisations and movements that promote inclusion and diversity – such as when I was the president of the Central West Rainbow Alliance, based in Dubbo, a role which aligned with my drive to improve LGBTIQ+ inclusion in rural and regional areas. I have received wonderful recognition for my work, such as being named the 2019 Out Role Model at the Australian LGBT Inclusion Awards. This recognition was such a proud and fulfilling moment for me and really encouraged me to continue my work focussing on advocacy and social justice in order to create impact, change and inclusion in our community for all LGBTIQ+ people.

As for next steps, I am not sure what’s next for me. I am currently happy with my work at CSU and being part of the Pinnacle Foundation. I am really enjoying my post-Masters degree freedom and reading for leisure is a luxury that I am getting used to again.

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