More than a party: What Mardi Gras means to Western Sydney

Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre social worker Martin Silveira.

Martin Silveira almost felt he had no choice but to become a social worker.

The support of sexual health workers made a big difference in his life as he settled into his identity as a young gay man in the early 2000s, and so when it came time to choosing his career, the path seemed obvious.

“I’ve always been a people person, I was good at supporting people through challenging times, and as a gay man I was acutely aware of what was happening in my community,” Martin said.

“I felt a responsibility as a Spanish-speaking, gay, Uruguayan kid from south-west Sydney to give back.”

Martin joined Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre (WSSHC) one year ago, having previously worked in fields including NSW Family Planning, HIV/AIDS Related Programs, SWS Multicultural Health and NSW Refugee Health in a variety of roles including health promotion and community engagement.

His role as a social worker includes counselling, emotional support, psychosocial assessments and education, contact tracing, and supporting his clients – mostly men who have sex with men and sex workers – to access other services.

The Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre team.

“I have worked at diversifying my skills to equip me to support clients at any stage of their life, whether they’ve just become sexually active, have being living with HIV for some time or are finding it challenging to come out,” Martin said.

“We are sex positive at WSSHC. We take people as they are and use a strength-based approach to support people in choosing goals and achieving them.

“I’m here to support people to critically reflect and guide them as needed. People tend to find their own direction. This office is a safe space, and when people have a safe space the solutions tend to come naturally.”

Martin said he has seen positive change in recent years, including the legalisation of same-sex marriage and the widespread availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which has revolutionised HIV prevention.

But he said that LGBTIQ+ people still experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, isolation, aggression and abuse, and the stigma around seeking and accessing sexual health services.

“That’s why Mardi Gras is still important and so much more than a party. It’s a wonderful way to show all Australians the tenacity, resilience and passion with which the LGBTIQ+ community has in overcoming challenges such as HIV, homophobia, transphobia and social inequality.

“I see the effects that rejection and isolation have on people’s health. So there’s power in being given a voice and showing people our lives.

“Mardi Gras goes beyond colour and movement. It’s part of the work we are still doing in our daily lives for respect, acknowledgement and understanding.”

“Mardi Gras remains relevant to me as a gay man because it continues to give voice to the challenges gay men face,” Martin said.

Martin encourages people to take control of their sexuality in a healthy way, including getting a regular sexual health check-up, understanding consent, using condoms and PEP/PrEP, and reaching out and asking for help if things feel like they are overpowering.

“There’s no judgement here. The doctors, nurses and social workers are amazing and the services we provide are second to none,” he said.

Located in Parramatta and Mount Druitt, Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre is a public service that provides free and confidential testing, support, treatment and management of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and HIV. Interpreter services are available.

To make a free, confidential appointment, call on (02) 9843 3124.

WSLHD is committed to diversity and inclusion as one of eight key focus areas in a district-wide culture strategy launched last year.