Ben Bjarnesen

What inspired you to become involved with The Pinnacle Foundation?

Growing up I didn’t have any visible LGBTIQ+ role models or mentors in the workplace or the community.  I love that The Pinnacle Foundation provides the opportunity to help mentor our LGBTIQ+ students and assist them in achieving their goals and providing a pathway for them to succeed. Not only does The Pinnacle Foundation provide financial support, which is important, but the community and mentor aspect is vital for our scholars to succeed and become leaders in their fields.

Tell us about your work and your involvement with the LGBTIQ+ community?

I have many roles within the community covering LGBTIQ+ community safety and wellbeing, LGBTIQ+ Domestic Violence (DV) and welfare/support of LGBTIQ+ police officers and staff in the Queensland (QLD) Police. Some of these roles include:

  • Regional Coordinator, Qld Police LGBTIQ+ Liaison Officer Program (community)
  • Committee Member, Qld Police LGBTIQ+ Support Network (police officers and staff)
  • Vice-Chair, Qld Police Union of Employees, Inclusion and Diversity Committee
  • Founder, LGBTIQ+ Domestic Violence Awareness Day
  • Committee Member, The Pinnacle Foundation
  • Board of Directors, DVConnect
  • Consultant, Griffith University, MATE Bystander Program
  • Training Facilitator, Qld Council for LGBTIQ+ Health
  • Member, Qld Government LGBTIQ+ Roundtable

One initiative that I am very proud to be the founder of is the LGBTIQ+ Domestic Violence Awareness Day. The numbers of domestic violence cases in our community are high, yet underreported. It’s so important that people from LGBTIQ+ communities know that help is available for them, that they don’t have to live with abuse and that everyone, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity, deserves to live a life free from violence and abuse. For more information on LBGTIQ+ Domestic Violence Awareness Day (28th May) and how you can get involved, go to:

Tell us about Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence within the LGBTIQ+ community and what is the problem?

Many people in LGBTIQ+ communities may not identify themselves as being in a domestic violence relationship, as domestic violence is most often seen as a problem of heterosexual relationships with men abusing women. LGBTIQ+ people are less likely to see themselves as experiencing abuse or being an abuser if they cannot identify with the portrayed characteristics of domestic violence within the public eye, and therefore may also believe that there is no support available to them. There is often a belief that they won’t be taken seriously or believed by police or will not be treated appropriately or respectfully.  Some people may also believe that domestic violence is only physical violence, when it is in fact a lot more.  It can be psychological, verbal, emotional, financial, social, cultural, stalking, digital or sexual.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges for the LGBTIQ+ community?

When it comes to domestic and family violence, I would have to say the biggest challenge would be access to appropriate support services.  Domestic violence operates under a very gendered framework which doesn’t necessarily work for LGBTIQ+ communities.  Things like crisis accommodation, perpetrator behavioural change programs, court safe rooms are all designed to protect women who have had violence or abuse perpetrated against them by a man.  In Queensland there are no perpetrator programs or victim/survivor groups for LGBTIQ+ communities and that is the case for most of Australia. When it comes to housing, it is only available for women.  Safe rooms in courts only allow women to enter them, which mean that female perpetrators can have access female victims in the courts, and male victims are forced to sit outside in the general waiting room with the perpetrator rather than being able to access a safe space, free from intimidation, threats or harm whilst they wait for their matter to be heard by the court. (e.g. Domestic Violence Order Application or AVO application)

 What can we be doing as a community to improve and health and safety of LGBTIQ+ people?

We must realise that only by working together can we end the scourge of domestic and family violence in our communities.  We all have a responsibility to do something.  We cannot sit back and expect someone else to do something about it.  We must all be active bystanders.  Ask yourself, what can I do as an individual, what can be done in my workplace, what can me and my friends do?  Make yourself familiar with what the signs of an abusive relationship are.   Look into what you can do as a bystander.  That way you can recognise signs of domestic and family violence and will be armed with the knowledge of what you can do should you identify someone in an abusive relationship.

What resources or supports do you recommend? (can be for DV, or health in general, etc)

Qlife (National LGBTIQ+ support and referral)

1800 RESPECT (National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service)

Another Closet

Say it Out Loud

Georg Tamm

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

My journey to the Pinnacle foundation has not been a short or easy one. In my first semester of University I lost both my biological parents and quickly had to figure out how to manage a university degree with limited financial support. Being the first in your family to attend a group of 8 isn’t always easy. But despite this I used my tenacity to fight for students with similar circumcircles to mine. This included speaking against fee deregulation at the University Town Hall meeting, running for student board twice, interning on Capitol Hill, and becoming involved with my discipline’s student society.

The opportunity to study at the University of Sydney changed my life and perspective on many things. My Mentors Brandon and Marian were instrumental in shifting my world views and taught me the value of my own voice and ideas. Their research profoundly inspired me as it was research that engaged with people and made a difference. I guess that’s where my values of service and stewardship came from.

When I began studying my Honours Degree, I knew that I wanted to do something that reflected an experience not often discussed in my subjects; queer people. When I embarked on my journey, I quickly learned that much of the literature on Queer people in organisations focused on issues of heterosexism and discrimination that I was going to experience. But there was nothing practical to help me build a career as a Gay Commerce graduate. It sparked curiosity (please enjoy my curious Georg pun) in how I could contribute towards building knowledge that was so desperately missing from my subjects (through no fault of my lecturers but rather the field we were in). For example, how does a Queer person go about overcoming discrimination, or how do LGBTIQ+ CEO’s like Allen Joyce experience their careers? What were the challenges they faced and more importantly what helped them get through the lavender ceiling? I knew that the natural next step in my career was to pursue a Doctorate Degree to build scientific knowledge about queer people in organisations.

It was at that point I knew that I had to apply.

What have you gained from being part of the Pinnacle program so far?

Pinnacle has provided me in various ways. The financial support of the foundation has meant that I was able to purchase the equipment I need to pursue my studies as well as attend international conferences to present my research. Whilst the financial support has opened up many opportunities not previously available to me undoubtedly the social/mentor support has been of even greater value. I speak with Andrew, Nicholas, and Jim on a regular basis who provide extensive emotional support during an at times emotionally taxing PhD process. My Mentor Drew has also provided emotional and career advice which has been invaluable.  These personal connections have been the best benefit I have received. Knowing that there are people like me who have travelled my path before makes my journey less daunting.

What has your experience with your mentor been like? 

My Mentor Drew has been invaluable in providing career advice as well as how to navigate and analyse different situations. In particular I’ve found our conversations helpful in analysing what is important to me and how to go about achieving my desired goals.

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

Sit down. Write that damn application. Seriously.

Honestly the Pinnacle Foundation experience was a life changing experience for me. I met my fellow scholars and Pinnacle community at the induction weekend not knowing what to expect. I left our induction weekend in tears having made some of my closest friends today. I was inspired by the various stories previously not heard from our community. Pinnacle is more than just a bit of financial support. It’s given me a family of supports, a group of mentors, a group of collaborators and most importantly given me the confidence to make a difference in the world. If you are thinking about applying for Pinnacle stop thinking and just do it. I promise it will change your life. I know it has for me.

Renae Papalexiou

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

My name’s Renae (they/them), and I am a nonbinary person based on Turrbal country (Brisbane). I have completed a Bachelor of Science (Biology/Chemistry) and am now in my Master of Teaching specialising in Secondary Science Education. I first heard of The Pinnacle Foundation when my best friend applied in 2019 and got accepted. After seeing what an amazing experience they were having with the Pinnacle family, he encouraged me to apply, and now we are both Pinnacle scholars! During high school and early adulthood, I was in the closet as I was not ready to express my identity to the world. I grew up in an extremely supportive family, and my mum was even queer, yet seeing the strength required to go through the journey she went on when she came out made me hesitant to do it myself. However, with support from my closest friends, I was able to free myself and be honest about who I am. Once I came out of the closet about my sexuality, my gender exploration soon followed, and once again, with the help of my best friend, I was able to explore that free of judgement. The Pinnacle Foundation has provided with me with a family and a support network that not only encourages me to be proud of who I am, but to also not be scared to explore and express my true self.

What have you gained from being part of the Pinnacle program so far?

The Pinnacle Foundation has provided me with a connection to our community that I never thought I would be able to find. I am quite a busy person and in the past, I have not realised how important connection and support within our community is, as I have never had a large community around me. I feel safe with my Pinnacle Family. I know that whatever happens in my life, I will always have the Pinnacle Family to support me. The Pinnacle Foundation is much more than a ‘program’ or a ‘scholarship’, it is a family, and I know I’ll have these connections and this community for as long as I choose to.

What has your experience with your mentor been like?

My experience with my mentor has been great! They are highly experienced in their field and were able to give me every connection I needed to achieve my goals. However, with the COVID-19 situation, we have been unable to achieve these goals, so after talking to my current mentor and Pinnacle about the situation, I have been able to add another mentor to my team to assist me with my current needs for my degree, as my course has changed immensely. I am very excited to connect with my second mentor and absorb their knowledge and support!

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

Do it and don’t look back! The Pinnacle Foundation is about so much more than the financial assistance. The Pinnacle Foundation is a family.

Dr Glen Lo

What inspired you to become a mentor at The Pinnacle Foundation?

My inspiration is to help LGBTIQ+ youth and my community. When I was approached by The Pinnacle Foundation in 2019 to mentor a scholar in Perth who was studying medicine and needed a mentor, my answer was without question – yes.

I come from a diverse background. I started primary school wearing abduction splints for Perthes’ disease and I was the only half-Chinese kid in my class. I was always picked last in sport, but at high school I developed an interest in contemporary dance and was mentored by working directly with professional dancers. A decade later I mentored new company members and joined Buzz Dance Theatre as a company dancer. We toured nationally – even the Sydney Opera House! Mentoring helped me achieve a dream.

Working in the arts is often financially stressful so I studied medicine as a backup career and, after leaving the dance company, I started specialty training as a diagnostic radiologist. I’m now very privileged to hold permanent appointments at a tertiary hospital and several private clinics.

In studying medicine and during my speciality training I didn’t have the same level of mentoring that I had had in training to be a dancer. Medical workplace culture is very different to a dance company but not without allies or peers. My prior experience as a mentor and a mentee showed me the value in such a relationship, and I am thrilled to be able to continue it today.

What have you learnt from being a mentor at The Pinnacle Foundation?

You are enough.

You deserve to be here.

Everybody supports you here.

It was easier than I thought it would be. Everyone feels like they don’t have enough experience to be a mentor. It’s common in medicine to feel like you’re not qualified enough to meet a standard that you’ve largely set from your own expectations. But from my mentor/scholar relationship, I’ve learnt that what I have to offer is enough and I can give the support that’s needed.

What advice would you give to other mentors or potential mentors who want to join The Pinnacle Foundation?

Being a mentor is not about having all the answers or having the exact same sexuality, gender identity and experiences as your scholar. Not even identical twins would match that. The relationship is bilateral and requires availability, approachability and adaptation on both sides. Pinnacle mentors are a sounding board, there to hear scholars’ voiced issues around their studies and their career goals. Pinnacle scholars only want invited or occasional advice but always welcome support and encouragement. Just as I work within a Scope of Clinical Practice in my day job, my scholar only asks from me the skills and experience that I bring to the table, that they want from me. The Pinnacle Foundation is careful to match a scholar’s needs with a mentor’s capacity to meet those needs; in some cases it takes more than one mentor – you won’t be asked to fill somebody else’s shoes.

Hayden Moon

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

I went through quite a significant journey to get here actually. I left an unaccepting home and experienced homelessness on and off for a few years. This affected my university work and it was a very difficult time but luckily, I had some very supportive people around me.

I’ve been an activist for the rights of transgender people, disabled people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for a few years now. Through my activism I’ve seen the positive effect that programs like the scholarship program offered by The Pinnacle Foundation can have on our communities.

I just completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) majoring in Theatre and Performance Studies at The University of Sydney. I was homeless when I began my honours year in February 2019, but I acquired affordable housing about a month into my candidature and I received a first class honours grade at the end of the year.

I found out about The Pinnacle Foundation from my previous careers advisor and we spoke through how to apply. I knew that I wanted to do a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) but that I would not be able to afford it without financial support. So, I applied last year and was absolutely over-the-Moon (pun definitely intended) to receive The Tea Uglow Scholarship!

What have you gained from being part of the Pinnacle program so far?

I’ve gained so much from the Pinnacle Foundation so far. The money has really helped me to focus on my studies without financial burden and assisted me in purchasing much needed items. But being a Pinnacle Scholar has helped me in so many more ways beyond the funding. I’ve found the Pinnacle community to really be the most valuable part of the program so far. I really love the family atmosphere at Pinnacle, it’s such a caring environment where everyone really supports one another and wants to see each other succeed. I’ve made some really close friends through Pinnacle and I always feel like someone at Pinnacle will be there to help me out if I need anything.

What has your experience with your mentor been like?

My experience with my mentor Harri Harding has been great! We’re both in the arts and we’re both musicians so we get along really well. My mentor has been a great support when I’ve needed him and is always happy to chat. It’s been really good to know he’s there if I need support, especially during COVID-19 where things at university became quite stressful – I found it really helpful to chat to him about organisation, connecting to people and self-care.

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

My advice would be to go for it! I know as a young marginalised person that it can feel really daunting and intimidating to apply for a scholarship like this and I also know that you can struggle with feelings of not being good enough. I definitely felt this way when I applied. I filled out the application nervously with a friend by my side and I remember saying to them “I won’t get it” and here I am!

So, my advice would be to believe in yourself and know that you’re capable of achieving amazing things. You should definitely apply because being a Pinnacle Scholar is a really rewarding experience.

Successful Mentor/ Scholar Relationships: creating relationships that work.

The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselvesSteven Spielberg.

Encouraging and supporting successful mentor/ scholar relationships is one of the key elements of the success of The Pinnacle Foundation Scholarship Program. We truly believe that working with a mentor is vital for young LGBTIQ+ Australians to reach their potential and achieve their academic and life goals.

A successful mentor/ scholar relationship provides empathy, understanding and perspectives to our scholars. Based on our scholars’ feedback, we know that our scholars value the emotional support they receive from their mentors because our mentors have often struggled with the same challenges, can draw on their own experiences and are skilled at providing the right messages at the right time to scholars. This level of support and understanding has not often been experienced by our scholars and we know that the relationship our scholars’ have with their mentors lead them to feel valued as a person, have increased confidence and develop a greater sense of belonging and community. Our scholars have told us that they are now more comfortable with their gender identity or sexual orientation as a result of having a strong and supportive mentor/ scholar relationship.  As one of our scholars explained when talking about their relationship with their mentor, ‘it helped me incredibly and gave me a sense of purpose – a journey of self-discovery.”

Successful mentor/ scholar relationships often last long after our scholars have completed their university courses. In fact, about half of our scholars continue to have contact with their mentors and many have developed strong friendships that well surpass the mentor/ scholar relationship. These long-term relationships are a testament to the careful process applied to the matching of the mentor and scholar by The Pinnacle Foundation’s Mentor Manager, how well our mentors undertook their role and how involved and engaged our scholars were during the process.

A successful mentor/ scholar relationship provides an opportunity for both parties to engage in continual learning. For the scholar, they have access to a wealth of knowledge and life experience from a mentor who has walked the path before them and can now share their experience and wisdom. For a mentor, this relationship is an opportunity to update skills, improve knowledge and gain fresh ideas and perspectives from their scholar. For mentors and scholars, this relationship also provides an opportunity to look outside of their own history and life experience and learn about someone else’s story and transgenerational perspective and apply this know-how to life, work and academic experiences.

We are incredibly grateful for all our past and current mentors who have made such a difference to the lives of our scholars.  Here are some of those relationships that light the spark:

If you would like to learn more about becoming a Pinnacle Foundation mentor, please go to our Mentors information page on:

Pinnacle Foundation former scholar, Rhian Mordaunt, recently penned this beautifully written and powerful piece for the University of Sydney Student Newspaper.

Rhian said that he would not have had the courage to write such a piece without the support of the Pinnacle Foundation and hopes that by sharing this, he can help other people who have faced similar struggles.

My worlds are clashing

On the tensions of being queer and Muslim

“Are you religious?”

“Nah, I was a Muslim up until I was like 13 though.”

“Why did you stop?”

“I realised I was gay.”

They laugh and I join in until I realise that my trauma was the punchline.

But there’s a grain of truth in every joke.

One of the main reasons I left Islam was because I couldn’t handle the internal battle between faith and desire.

Did I even have a choice?

My relationship with Islam is complex. I don’t eat pork, I fasted during Ramadan up until last year, I pray when things get tough and I majored in Arabic in order to read the Qur’an.

Yet, I definitely drink, I don’t pray five times a day, I have premarital sex (sorry mum) and I can’t remember the last time I opened, let alone read, the Qur’an.

I didn’t have a choice, right?

So Let It Be Written, So Let It Be Done 

When the question of whether queerness is compatible with Islam arises, conversations inevitably turn to the attacks committed against gender and sexual minorities in Muslim majority countries. A 2013 Pew Research Centre poll revealed the percentage of people in Muslim majority countries who oppose the social acceptance of homosexuality: Jordan (97%), Egypt (95%), Indonesia (93%) and Pakistan (87%).

Numerous Islamic leaders have publically condemned homosexuality, the Chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, once stating that, “the spread of this depraved practice in a society disrupts the natural life pattern and makes those who practice it slaves to their lusts, depriving them of decent taste, decent morals and a decent manner of living.” During Australia’s recent marriage equality debates, President of the Australian National Imams Council Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman stated that, “we oppose same-sex marriage and consider it a sin and religiously illegal… Islam promotes equality; however equality itself has limits.”

While there are systemic problems within the Islamic community regarding the acceptance of queerness, it is also important to interrogate what Islamic scripture actually says about homosexuality. Discourse surrounding homosexuality and its prohibition in Islam is based on the story of Prophet Lut, which condemns violent sexuality and criticises men for leaving their wives in order to rape men.

However, contemporary scholars such as Amreen Jamal are calling for a critical rethink of the standard interpretation of Lut. Jamal argues that the story does not render a judgement against same-sex sexuality, as the objections towards same sex-attractions are on par with the objections towards opposite sex and non-sexual indiscretions alike.

This calls into question the ambiguous terminology used in the narrative such as “those not producing” or “men who have no wiles with women”, which can be interpreted as referring to eunuchs or impotent men. Islamic studies scholar Scott Kugle argues that the main focus of this narrative is therefore not about defining a “correct gender” for a man’s sexual orientation, but rather, preaching that both men and women deserve protection from rape and humiliation.

My Jihad 

In a study on British Muslim gay men, one participant stated that his queerness was his jihad (struggle). Another stated that, “if I could choose, I wouldn’t be gay. I know I’m going to hell for this. I feel really ashamed, not comfortable or happy in my life….like my worlds are clashing.”

These statements encapsulate the internal battles encountered by many queer Muslims who are afraid of being ostracised from their own religious communities. Psychologist Rusi Jaspal explains this dilemma, arguing  that “the social representations of homosexuality within these communities may be stigmatising, potentially resulting in a decreased willingness to come out and a perceived conflict between their sexual and ethno-religious identities.”

For many queer Muslims, giving into religious or cultural pressures, such as heterosexual marriage, appears to be the only method open to them to avoid otherisation.

The Muslim Closet 

Queer Muslims attacked within their own communities for their queerness, and face homophobia and Islamaphobia in broader Australian society as well.

In 2007 in Camden, pigs’ heads adorned with the Australian flag were placed at a site proposed for an Islamic school. In 2014 in Bendigo, a protester shouted outside a mosque, “if you’re Muslim and you want a mosque, go back to the Middle East. This is Australia”. In 2017 at a Q Society fundraising dinner, Larry Pickering said that if Muslims “are on the same street as me, I start shaking….they are not all bad, they do chuck ‘pillow biters’ [a homophobic slur] off of buildings”.

Increasingly, far-right politicians use disingenuous concern for the queer community as a justification for anti-Muslim and anti-immigration policies. During the 2016 US Presidential race, for example, Donald Trump cargued that “Hillary Clinton can never claim to be a friend of the gay community as long as she continues to support immigration policies that bring Islamic extremists to our country who suppress women, gays and anyone who doesn’t share their views”. For queer Muslims, their identities become weapons against their communities.

Queer Muslims struggle with Islamophobia within the LGBTQ+ community as well. Within largely white queer spaces, anthropologist Niels Teunis argues,many queer Muslims feel trapped within the “Muslim Closet”:, too afraid to tell people about their Muslim identity because of its associations homophobic cultural values.


One of the primary conflicts queer Muslims face is feeling as though they are forced to adopt gender and sexuality labels that only exist in a Western context, such as “lesbian” or “gay”. This may prevent them from constructing an identity that feels authentic and aligns with their cultural background. After all, most identities within the LGBTQ+ community wereconceived in the West under the influence of postmodernism and queer theory.

Commenting on this Western construction of identities, Madjid Bencheikh argues “homosexuality is universal, what is not, are the forms it takes.” Homosexuality was indeed openly practiced in many Muslim societies from the seventh to the twentieth century.

Activist and scholar Houria Bouteldja highlights that, “in the Maghreb, homoeroticism has long been tolerated until colonisation imposed the norms of the rigid binary of homo/hetero.” This binary has made many queer Muslims feel threatened by members of the LGBTQ+ community, a phenomenon which Ludovich-Mohamed Zahed, an openly-gay Imam, terms as sexual imperialism” attacking people they deem to be queer where it is not claimed by them as an identity. In one study on queer South Asian women a participant quipped“white queers all emphasise coming out so much…next time a white person tells me to come out to my parents I’m going to tell them to make sure ‘cause of death: coming out because a white person told her to” is included in my obituary.”

Power in Resistance? 

Being a queer Muslim is inherently complex as they have to overcome both homophobia and Islamophobia in order to be their authentic selves. However, sociology professor Momin Raman argues that “the ‘impossibility’ of gay Muslims is exactly their power in resistance. The disruption of their identity comes in challenging the ontological coherence of these dominant identity narratives which exclude gay Muslims as being impossible.” Whilst I sympathise with sentiment of Raman’s message and I understand the liberation that one can feel by challenging social norms I personally never felt this power when I was coming to terms with my identity.

I always felt weak. I always felt afraid. I always felt alone.

I am grateful to see organisations such as Sydney Queer Muslims and Al-Fitrah passionately supporting and advocating for Muslims of diverse sexualities and genders. I would have loved to have seen these organisations around when I was struggling with my sexuality and religious identity.

I hope to see a day when my worlds are no longer clashing.

A day when they finally align.

Peter McGee Profile

Peter McGee thinks education is the gateway to overcoming some of the disadvantages, marginalisation and discrimination faced by many young LGBTIQ+ Australians. Peter, an ex-Sydney University academic, is well aware of these challenges as he himself has faced many obstacles during his lifetime. As a gay man Peter has witnessed how discrimination and social exclusion were rampantly displayed towards members of the LGBTIQ+ community legally and socially for the past 50 years. Peter witnessed the slow progression towards equality in Australian society and while we have come a long way, there is still a long way to go in this journey. Peter says, “It is important to remove the stigma that has been associated with being a member of the LGBTIQ+ community and I think education and representation are key factors in enhancing equality and enabling acceptance.”

Peter has been a supporter of The Pinnacle Foundation, he has been a mentor and now is an avid fundraiser for the Foundation, “Ignorance is a big problem in our society and education is key to overcoming ignorance. Pinnacle provides support, positive representation and encouragement for young LGBTIQ+ Australians.” It is this belief in the Foundation’s work that has brought about Peter’s fundraising effort through his art and his desire to raise the Foundation’s profile through his art.

Peter discovered his love of art during his childhood, “As a child I was always scribbling and drawing on bits of paper. I started painting in my late teens – early 30s but had to work and study, so the painting stopped. In retirement, I returned to painting; I wanted to see if my skills were still there.” Peter’s talent for painting is evidently still there. Peter’s inspiration to fundraise for The Pinnacle Foundation came about when he was deciding what he was going to do with all his newly created artworks. Peter recalls thinking, “I looked at all these paintings and thought ‘I can either fill the house with my paintings or use them to raise money for a worthwhile cause.’ I chose to sell them not only to fundraise for Pinnacle, but to raise Pinnacle’s profile and create awareness about the Foundation.”

As a result, Peter has hosted two very successful art exhibitions in his home in Sydney’s Inner West where he has sold his paintings donating all the proceeds to The Pinnacle Foundation. Peter’s artworks are underpinned by elements of the natural world and are inspired by his love of the natural world, “The Australian landscape is vast, yet the component parts are important: broad brush and detail emerge in different works. I am also fascinated by change in the landscape. Fire, rain, drought, flood and heat have different impacts, and the landscape continues.” Peter is looking forward to hosting his third fundraising exhibition, scheduled for April 25 28, 2020, at his home. “Hosting the exhibitions at home provides me creative control. I select artworks that will fit the theme and look for the event within an intimate and friendly space where people can browse the artworks and learn about The Pinnacle Foundation,” states Peter. Peter is very much looking forward to raising funds which help The Pinnacle Foundation light the spark by providing educational and vocational support to young adults across Australia where their gender identity, sexual orientation or sexual characteristics have prevented or hindered achievement of their career aspirations or personal development.

If you would like to learn more about Peter McGee’s work and find out more about his upcoming The Pinnacle Foundation fundraising exhibition, please visit his website:

Planned Giving (Bequests) & Membership event, and launch of The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG Scholarship

In February 2020, Herbert Smith Freehills generously hosted a cocktail event in Sydney to raise awareness of The Pinnacle Foundation’s Planned Giving (Bequests) & Membership programs, and to launch The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG Scholarship.

The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG Scholarship was created with the generous financial support of Herbert Smith Freehills, Arnold Bloch Leibler, Ashurst, Clayton Utz, Gilbert & Tobin, Maddocks, Minter Ellison, Piper Alderman, Dr Matthew Collins AM QC and Leonard Vary.

Attendees were welcomed by HSF Partner, Rebekah Gay, and heard from Sean Linkson OAM, Pinnacle’s Founding Patron, and the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG himself. Congratulations go to Eric Gonzales on being awarded The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG Scholarship in 2020.

To donate to The Pinnacle Foundation, or to learn more about Pinnacle’s Bequests and Membership programs, please visit our Membership and Planned Giving pages..

Scholar Induction and Strategy Weekend 2020

One weekend in February, the Pinnacle Foundation Scholars, Mentors and Volunteers came together for an induction that has set the stage for an exciting year.

Beyond the amazing friendship and networking opportunities, everyone came together to deliver on the Pinnacle Foundation’s mandate to light the spark and to provide education and vocational support to young adults across Australia where their gender identity, sexual orientation or sexual characteristics have prevented or hindered achievement of their career aspirations or personal development.

This weekend wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our Founders, Patrons and Donors who have contributed so generously.

Photos courtesy of: Alexander Legaree and Tim Lai

Caitlyn Georgeson

Caitlyn took part in The Pinnacle Foundation’s Scholarship program during 2014-2017 while undertaking a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Adelaide. Caitlyn shares with us her journey as a Pinnacle alumni and what she has been up to since completing her studies.

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

I applied for the Pinnacle Foundation Scholarship Program in my second year of a five-year university degree. I was living out of home and really needed the financial support the program offered. The scholarship program also seemed like an amazing opportunity to connect with a community of people who shared similar experiences and goals as I did. I was thrilled when I received a call saying I had been accepted into the program. I was told that my mentor would be Judge Charlotte Kelly of the Federal Circuit Court — she had graciously agreed to mentor me when asked by the Pinnacle Mentor Manager. I am so grateful that Judge Kelly agreed to mentor me — not only did I gain a mentor, I gained a lifelong friend. Judge Kelly and I caught up every few months during my four years as a Pinnacle scholar. She was always so generous with her time and provided me with incredible guidance and advice. Judge Kelly looked out for me even after my time as a Pinnacle scholar came to an end, and we still keep in touch today.

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

When I received my scholarship I was living out of home and studying full time. University life can be really challenging, and the financial assistance from my scholarship was vital for me. I was able to focus more on my studies and could finally afford my textbooks. I also cannot overstate how important the Pinnacle community was to me. Meeting so many talented and driven LGBTIQ+ people opened my eyes to the world of support and opportunity that exists for us. It allowed me to see that I could be happy and successful in my career, never compromising on who I am.

I would strongly encourage other young LGBTIQ+ Australians to apply — don’t hesitate, you are deserving of this scholarship and you have a unique voice to contribute to our community. It is important to understand that the program caters to all types of people and career choices; no matter what career you have chosen, the Pinnacle Scholarship Program can be an option for you. The benefits of being a Pinnacle scholar are boundless and it is so heartening to see the program go from strength to strength and support increasing numbers of young LGBTIQ+ Australians.

What have you been up to since finishing your degree and since your time as a Pinnacle scholar?

I have been very busy since finishing my degree in 2018. My Pinnacle scholarship helped me reach my full potential at university — I graduated with first class honours, the Justin Skipper Prize for the student who took the most active and effective part in student life throughout their degree, and the John Perry Prize for International Law. I have made the move from Adelaide to Melbourne to pursue my dream of working in international law. I currently work as an Associate to the Honourable Justice Zammit at the Supreme Court of Victoria, working on civil and criminal matters. My work is incredibly rewarding, and I am so grateful that I have been able to pursue this opportunity with the support of my Pinnacle mentor who acted as a personal reference for me.

I have also made sure to keep actively involved with the Pinnacle Foundation. I recently became involved with the Victorian Committee, and I often speak at Pinnacle events and share the impact the Pinnacle Foundation has had on my life. I look forward to continuing my relationship with the Pinnacle Foundation in the long-term. It is really important to me to give back to the organisation that has provided me, and so many others, with such vital support.

Night of a Thousand Dinners 2019 - Queensland

On Tuesday 26 November, Michael Hiller and KPMG generously hosted a Night of a Thousand Dinners cocktail event in Brisbane. Over 80 attendees heard from a panel comprising Pinnacle Deputy Chair, Elizabeth Jameson; Pinnacle Queensland Chair, Wayne Porritt; Pinnacle Ambassador, The Hon Justice Thomas Bradley; Queensland Police Commissioner, Katarina Carroll; and Pinnacle alumni, Harriet Horsfall. Special thanks go to KPMG, silent auction prize donors, and the Queensland Committee for their tireless efforts. Together we are lighting the spark and transforming young lives.

Night of a Thousand Dinners 2019 - Victoria

On Thursday 21 November, Mark Gossington and KPMG generously hosted a Night of a Thousand Dinners cocktail event in Melbourne. Over 100 attendees heard from Pinnacle’s Founding Patron, Sean Linkson OAM, as well as scholars/alumni Ben Henry, Caitlyn Georgeson and Connor Allen, who powerfully inspired the audience with their journeys. Special thanks go to KPMG, prize donors, and the Victorian Committee for their tireless efforts.

Night of a Thousand Dinners 2019 - New South Wales

On Saturday 17 November, Alan Joyce AC hosted 140 guests for a black tie dinner at Qantas HQ as part of Pinnacle’s national Night of a Thousand Dinners fundraising celebrations around the country. Dylan Lloyd, one of the Foundation’s graduating scholars, powerfully shared his story – affirming how The Pinnacle Foundation lights the spark and transforms young lives. Thanks go to the event sponsors and prize donors, including Neil Perry and The Rockpool Foundation, PWC, Talent Management, Zeal, Ross Wilson Wines; as well as auctioneer Karen Harvey, host Anjali Rao, DJ Kate Munroe, the marvellous Qantas volunteers, NSW Chair, Shane Lloyd, and the NSW Committee for their tireless efforts.

Big thanks also to Jeffrey Fang (IG @jeffreyfengphotos) and Agostina Martorana for photographing the event.

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.

Cornerstone Members Dinner 2019

On Tuesday 24 September our Chair, Paul Zahra and his husband, Duncan Peerman, generously hosted The Pinnacle Foundation’s annual Cornerstone Members dinner at the Kensington Street Private Kitchen in Sydney. The event recognises and celebrates the important contribution our Cornerstone donors make to The Pinnacle Foundation.

With Patron Alan Joyce AC and Founding Patron Sean Linkson OAM in attendance, Cornerstone Members were privileged to hear Dylan Lloyd, a NSW Pinnacle Scholar, powerfully share his life story – including how support of the Pinnacle family helped Dylan to achieve his goals and support others facing difficult situations.

Cornerstone Members enjoyed performances from the Australian Institute of Music, fine wines generously supplied by Taylor’s Wines and received small gifts courtesy of Sephora and The Daily Edited. Paul Zahra shared with guests many of the exciting developments happening at the Foundation, and Sean Linkson OAM closed with evening with a warm and humorous speech in which he recognised the contributions of those present and explored planned giving.

Thanks go to Jason Parlett, Pinnacle volunteer, for his management of the event and to Same Love Photography.

Lorraine Hall

Lorraine Hall has been a valued mentor at the Pinnacle Foundation for nearly four years, having mentored two of our scholars during this time. Lorraine has had an illustrious career as a commercially focused senior lawyer and has a long-standing passion for working with people in a mentoring capacity. Lorraine shares what she has learnt during her journey as a Pinnacle Foundation mentor.

What inspired you to become a mentor at The Pinnacle Foundation?

I first registered to become a mentor with The Pinnacle Foundation in 2012 after reading about the Foundation in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir newsletter. I remember thinking that I wanted to be involved with Pinnacle because I feel passionately about education and supporting young LGBTIQ+ Australians having access to positive role models in all areas of life – career, relationships and wellbeing. I wanted to share my knowledge and experience and contribute positively to a young LGBTIQ+ Australian’s life experience. It wasn’t until 2016, after finalising the mentor/scholar compatibility check to make sure that we got on well together, that I began my first mentoring relationship at Pinnacle. I am driven by the knowledge that even though we have seen many advancements in the rights for the LGBTIQ+ community, we do have a long way to go and it is important to support and walk alongside young folk, especially those who have faced estrangement from family and community, so that they know they are not alone and that they have a community that supports and backs them in their journey.

What have you learnt from being a mentor at The Pinnacle Foundation?

My first mentoring role at Pinnacle was a great learning curve for me and even though I have experience in mentoring roles, mentoring young people is very dynamic and eye-opening. The transgenerational component of mentoring young people brings you up to date with what is happening in today’s educational landscape and the life challenges that young people face that were not part of my personal trajectory when I was of a similar age. I also learnt that as a mentor I could bring some more traditional approaches to situations that require a different perspective and approach. One example of this was when I recommended a more personalised approach rather than a heavy reliance on technology to face a challenging situation at university. I encouraged my scholar to set up a face-to-face meeting with their lecturer, rather than rely on email communication. This approach worked well because often lecturers are more receptive to face-to-face interactions and issues can be resolved better with a personal approach.

I truly believe that one of the biggest joys of being a mentor is the continual learning that comes along with the process. Being a mentor has encouraged me to look outside of my own history and life experience and learn about someone else’s story. These transgenerational, transcultural exchanges have opened my eyes not only to the differences between myself and my mentee, but also the similarities in our experiences. It is important to share insights with scholars even if the insights may or may not be relevant at that precise moment – you just never know what will resonate with your scholar and their experience. In my journey as a Pinnacle mentor, I have come to understand and acknowledge my strengths and limitations in this role. I can better identify what I can and cannot help my mentee with and acknowledge what I do and not know. It is important to be open to not knowing and always be ready to explore and upgrade your knowledge and skillset.

One important skill that I have learnt to further develop and one that I strive to always remember is to actively listen to my mentee, without probing. Actively listening means that I am not imposing my own opinion and experience without considering the scholar’s history and circumstances. It is vital to remember that everyone is an expert in their own life and can determine what the best course for their life is, based on what they have lived through and experienced. Additionally, to active listening, I have learnt that it is so important to be available, flexible and always ask questions without making assumptions. This approach has helped me nurture the relationship with the scholars I’ve been mentoring as I want to provide support from a place of understanding and empathy.

What advice would you give to other mentors or potential mentors who want to join The Pinnacle Foundation?

I can honestly say that mentoring is one of the most rewarding relationships that you can ever embark on. To get the most out of the mentoring process it is important to throw yourself in to the experience wholeheartedly. In my experience a certain degree of emotional intelligence is necessary in order to fulfil your role as a mentor well. It is so important to be available and flexible to your scholar as sometimes issues do arise outside of the scope of your scheduled mentoring appointment times where your scholar needs your support. A good mentor should enter a mentoring relationship with the perspective that you are there to support, assist, advise and encourage your scholar. The mentoring relationship can sometimes take you outside of your comfort zone and can turn into quite an intense relationship as we are working with young LGBTIQ + people who have often faced innumerable challenges in their lives, estrangement from family and mental health issues. Although you should always do your best to support your scholar, it is also important to be clear on where your role starts and ends, as a mentor is not there to provide professional mental health support, should that be needed.

Finally, one key piece of advice is to have fun! This is a fun and rewarding process – enjoy the moments, always keep learning and take each day as it comes. I remember one evening about a year after I started mentoring, when my partner and I went for dinner with my scholar and her partner. Having a casual evening to share our experiences, enjoy interesting conversation and laughter was a wonderful way to solidify and strengthen our mentoring relationship in the long-term, as we have kept in touch well past our mentoring stage. This evening meant a lot to my scholar, who said that it was so wonderful to witness a long-term successful same-sex partnership. The evening also meant so much to me and my partner because we got to spend a beautiful evening with two wonderful people.

Being a mentor for The Pinnacle Foundation is absolutely an experience I recommend as it has brought so much enjoyment, learning and understanding to my life.

Dylan Lloyd

Course: Final-year Law and Criminology student at UNSW.

Dylan’s Testimonial:

I want to share with you some of the ways in which Pinnacle has empowered me to achieve things that never would have been possible without the support I’ve received. To highlight just how important an organisation like Pinnacle is, I want to take you back to the start of my journey and show you how I got to where I am today.

I grew up in Richmond, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. I experienced almost daily bullying throughout my primary and early high school years, compounded by living difficulties at home. I was always seen as different, and as a bit of a nerd. When I discovered my attraction to men around the age of 12 or 13, it just reinforced the message that I was somehow broken, or wrong.

These experiences culminated in severe anxiety, especially social anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. After eventually coming out at school (to a handful of people initially, but the rumours spread like wildfire), ironically, the bullying actually stopped – some even came up to me to apologise. Coming out had freed me to be open about who I was at school, and I found a group of friends who accepted me the way I was.

These experiences encouraged me to become fiercely independent. Whenever I got home, I locked myself in my room and studied hard. I aspired to study Law at university – I was a big history, literature and theatre nerd – and it just seemed to capture all of those interests while giving me the knowledge and skills to help people in situations like the ones I was in. After completing Year 12, I applied to live at UNSW before I was even accepted as a student there. I moved in with no job, little financial support and less than $1500 in savings. I remain incredibly grateful that I found an accommodation provider who was willing to be lenient with my rental payments as I struggled through that time – my situation could have turned out a lot worse if I hadn’t.

Fast-forward to O-Week, and while perusing the stalls I noticed one flying the rainbow flag and the words “Queer Collective”. I was shocked! There were not only other people like me, but so many that could form their own stall? Still, I refused to approach them. I was determined not to become the token queer on campus and have my sexuality define me, like I felt it did in high school. But, reading the student newspaper that night, I discovered that this Collective had their very own room on campus, a “Queer Space”. And (even better) that they were having a Pokemon dress-up party that week. Queer nerds, with their very own private lounge on campus. I summoned up the courage, despite my heart thumping wildly in my chest and begging me to just go home, and stepped inside.

What I found that night was a new kind of family. A group of people who, even though they barely knew me, immediately accepted me for who I was. People I didn’t have to explain myself to upon introduction. People I didn’t have to be fearful around. And in that space over the next year, I was able to learn for the first time about the history of LGBTIQ+ people. Histories, stories, struggles, achievements that I had never known a thing about before. I learned that there were LGBTIQ+ people, proudly open and achieving success in virtually every profession. I learned about Michael Kirby, Patron of the Pinnacle Foundation, who was not only openly gay in the legal profession, but who had reached its peak as a Justice of the High Court of Australia. And all of this changed my worldview radically. Importantly, the Queer Collective also introduced me to The Pinnacle Foundation.

Pinnacle has become an extension of the family I found on campus. My Pinnacle family includes the other incredible scholars, each of whom inspire me with their work, achievements and support for me and each other, the staff who offer both proactive support and the knowledge that I’ve always got someone who has my back and of course the mentors. My mentor, Aaron, has provided me with insight, experience and advice, ranging from the professional to the academic and even the personal. It is been profoundly inspiring to see somebody like Aaron thriving in their profession and living an incredible life. He, as well as the other mentors, are wonderful role models and something I wish every LGBTIQ+ student had access to.

Of course, the other amazing aspect of Pinnacle is the scholarship funding. Before I became a Pinnacle Scholar, I had to work up to three jobs during Uni breaks and long hours in semester to remain afloat and cope with the costs of study. I was unable to afford a laptop, so used an old second-hand one that didn’t work unless it was plugged in at the wall (a struggle in many lecture halls!). Pinnacle also helped me save up for things like a suit; for much of my time at university I stood out at legal networking events doing my best to look the part but always falling short of the expectations. Importantly, I’m now able to strike much more of a balance between work, volunteering and study. I’m also proud to say that since becoming a Pinnacle Scholar, my grades for each semester have never dropped below a Distinction average.

Because of the support and empowerment I’ve received, I was encouraged to delve into projects that were supporting my community both on and off-campus, including getting involved with the campaign for marriage equality and scholarships for LGBTIQ+ students on campus. I was elected Queer Officer at the end of my first year (so my plan to avoid being the token queer on campus failed pretty drastically), and from there I’ve also had the opportunity to represent LGBTIQ+ students as the State Queer Officer for the National Union of Students and Convener of the Australian Queer Student Network. It was in that first on-campus role, though, that my co-Queer Officer and I discovered students living in the Queer Space on campus. We also discovered that this was a perennial issue every year. Some had been kicked out of home for simply being themselves, but I later found others who had been made homeless because of domestic violence, dodgy landlords or other situations, often attached to their sexuality and/or gender identity. These students didn’t know where to turn to for help. They didn’t even trust the Queer Collective or the University to support them, because of the stigma associated with homelessness and their experiences of homophobia and transphobia.

This experience inspired me to turn to the university and our student organisation at UNSW and put forward a solution. Within a few months, I successfully negotiated the establishment of two crisis accommodation rooms on campus. This would involve not only a place to stay, but also fast-tracked counselling and psychological support, welfare and employment advice and assistance to find somewhere permanent to stay.

I didn’t stop at UNSW, though. It was obvious to me that this issue wasn’t something that was confined to one campus. I reached out to other institutions across Australia and organised a workshop attended by hundreds of LGBTIQ+ students from across Australia in 2014. The outcome of this workshop was the launch of the Ending Queer Youth Homeless Project, a project I’ve led every year since then. Through this project, we’ve designed flyers and posters for every campus in Australia, launched a national portal to show what LGBTIQ+-friendly resources are available on each university campus and at a state and national level, and we’ve met with MPs to raise the profile of this issue. We even co-wrote a cross-party Senate motion in 2017 to call for state and national research and funding. Still waiting on a bit more action, but it’s in the works!

In addition to my LGBTIQ+ work, I’ve also had the opportunity to represent students for two years on the UNSW Academic Board and on the SRC. In those roles, I achieved University-wide policy reforms and successfully overhauled and strengthened the student representation on the Board into the future.

I am so incredibly proud of the work that I’ve been able to do in my years as a student. But I am also so thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to achieve these things in the first place, thanks to the LGBTIQ+ family who embraced me, supported me and empowered me to get there. I never thought any of this was possible when I was in school, struggling with violence, bullying, depression and anxiety. There are, unfortunately, so many other young people who are unable to realise their potential and achieve what they’re capable of because of circumstances associated with their sexuality and gender. The incredible work Pinnacle does means that those people have a chance to chase their dreams and fulfil their potential in a way they couldn’t have before.

I’ll be sad to leave university at the end of this year, with so much of my growth and development associated with it. But I’m also so excited to begin the next chapter of my life, with the knowledge that I’ve always got my Pinnacle family looking out for me. Thank you.

September 2019

We have been very busy at The Pinnacle Foundation over the last few weeks in our mission to share our work with young LGBTIQ+ Australians and establish positive and long-lasting partnerships with like-minded organisations and supporters. We have been travelling around meeting new allies and connecting with our existing partners.

We are so grateful for our Foundation Partners and corporate supporters who have opened their doors to members of our community and Foundation scholars, giving our young people an opportunity to share their journeys and the impact that the Pinnacle Foundation Scholarship Program has had on their lives. By opening their doors to Pinnacle, our partners join us in promoting education as the platform for success and a tool for life-changing opportunities for young LGBTIQ+ Australians from all around Australia studying in a wide range of fields.

Over the last few weeks, in conjunction with our Foundation Partners and supporters, we have been able to establish additional multi-year educational scholarships and mentoring support to young adults across Australia where their gender identity, sexual orientation or sexual characteristics have prevented or hindered the achievement of their career aspirations or personal development. By supporting our Scholarship Program, our partners are actively and tangibly changing the lives of young people across the nation and are helping us make great strides towards social equality and inclusion for our community. We would like to give a special thank you to our partners who have supported us and hosted events alongside us over the last few weeks and helped us to raise awareness of the Foundation’s important cause. Recently we have participated in milestone events which have formed the basis for long-term and fruitful partnerships for our Foundation and the young people we serve. Some of these events include:

AGL Latrobe Valley and Melbourne: AGL hosted a launch at Federation University in the Latrobe Valley to celebrate their partnership with us for a three-year scholarship which is open to students from the Latrobe Valley region. AGL General Manager Coal Operations, Steve Rieniets said that “AGL was proud to be a Pinnacle Foundation sponsor as one of AGL’s core values is ‘better together’ and this collaboration supports this by being respectful and inclusive of all and supporting the community in which we operate by breaking down barriers and working together.” AGL also hosted a launch event at their Melbourne headquarters where one of our scholars, Brock Manson, spoke powerfully about the impact The Pinnacle Foundation has played in achieving his goals and aspirations, and how organisations such as AGL play an important role in creating change in the lives of young LGBTIQ+ Australians.

King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) Sydney: This event launched The King & Wood Mallesons Scholarship and their multi-year partnership with The Pinnacle Foundation. The KWM Scholarship was officially launched in KWM’s Sydney offices. Great presentations were delivered by Claire Warren, Senior Associate at KWM, Paul Zahra, Chair of The Pinnacle Foundation, and Dylan Lloyd, a current scholar whose journey with Pinnacle has seen him step into a leadership role within his university’s LGBTIQ+ community and become an advocate for other marginalised community members who need support and a helping hand to secure safe and affordable housing and financial assistance during their academic careers. The KWM Scholarship will support a marginalised or disadvantaged LGBTIQ+ young adult to study law in Australia.

BHP Melbourne: BHP hosted an informative event to coincide with Wear It Purple Day which explored how different families embrace children who may identify as being a part of the LGBTIQ+ community. BHP announced in May this year its support for the Foundation and will provide three named scholarships for a period of three years, one for each of their major operating areas in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. This contribution will be vital in providing scholarship opportunities for young people in regional areas where there is a great need for this kind of support.

We are always grateful to our partners for championing our cause and for the progress we have made in facilitating greater access to education and community opportunities for young LGBTIQ Australians. We know that there is much more work that needs to be done in this area and would love to partner with you to be able to grow the Pinnacle program across Australia. If you would like to support our work at The Pinnacle Foundation, please visit our Corporate Supporters page for more information on how you can partner with us:
Corporate Supporters

August 2019

Laura Cripps

What was it like for you to be part of The Pinnacle Foundation Scholarship Program?
I applied for the Pinnacle Foundation Scholarship in 2017 and was awarded the SHK Asia Pacific Scholarship in 2018 for my final year at University where I was completing a Bachelor of Laws (Hons). The scholarship program not only provided financial support during my final year at University but has also been a great opportunity to meet some wonderful people, while also opening many doors.

As part of the program, I attended the Induction Weekend in Sydney which was a fantastic experience to meet amazing people from the LGBTIQA+ community, including Board Members of the foundation, many of them fresh from the Marriage Equality campaign, other Scholars and my Mentor. During the weekend, the Honourable Michael Kirby presented our scholarship certificates, which was very exciting for me as a law student and prospective lawyer. It was encouraging to be surrounded by so many strong members and allies of our community. Prior to attending this weekend, I had never had the opportunity to attend an event with so many members and leaders in the LGBTIQ+ community. I regularly attend events hosted by Pinnacle and have always felt a sense of belonging, a sense of community and a real family vibe. The Pinnacle Foundation events are a great opportunity to hears stories from LGBTIQA+ people of all different generations and truly understand how far we society has come to accepting LGBTIQA+ people, although there is still some way to go.

Since my graduation, I have joined the Victorian State Committee and perform the role of secretary on that committee. This year I will also have the privilege of being a member of the Scholar selection committee, and be able to bring a unique perspective to that process having so recently experienced what it is like to be a young person at University and the day-to-day challenges that you face.

What did you gain most from being part of the Pinnacle program?
Being a Pinnacle Foundation Scholar meant that I could finish my degree with greater ease because I had access to not only financial support, but also the support from so many people within the foundation such as my mentor, and fellow scholars. Being able to identify the similarities in our journeys has made it possible to be hopeful for the future, as well as provide support when times are challenging. Being part of the Pinnacle Program has absolutely helped me build my own personal community which continues to be such an important and valuable part of my life.

What was your experience with your mentor?
I am so happy with my mentor; she has been so helpful and valuable to my experience in the Program. We keep in touch as we have always had such a good connection and I have found it easy to talk to her about my career, life experiences and things I couldn’t speak to anyone else about. During the program we touched base every month or six weeks depending on how busy we both were, and we always made an effort to keep in touch. Having someone who is supportive and available was important for my peace of mind and success in the Program.

What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about applying for the Pinnacle Foundation Scholarship Program?
I would suggest that the young person think about what their motivations for why they are studying their course and what they want to achieve from their career and life. Understanding their personal motivations can help them be clear about their current goals and how they can get the most out of the Program. I would also recommend that applicants be candid about the challenges they have faced. Often, we minimise the challenges we have faced and do not give ourselves the credit for what we have fought against or overcome. By not sugar coating the challenges faced the Foundation will be able to identify what support might be needed, and any guidance required, which may come into helping select a mentor later down the line. I would just reiterate to the young person not to be afraid to be yourself because the Pinnace Foundation is one of the safest and most accepting places to be who you are.