Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 16, 2022


Marie Claire Women of the Year Gala

The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (16:03): Last week, Marie Claire hosted their inaugural Women of the Year gala. Chloe Hayden, an award-winning motivational speaker, actor, performer, author, influencer, content creator and disability rights activist and advocate won this year's rising star award. Chloe was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at the age of 13 and, feeling as though she was often excluded from society, Chloe started an anonymous blog to share her feelings and to find a community and a sense of belonging.

Chloe built something bigger than she had ever dreamed of. She now has half a million followers and nearly half a billion view across her platforms. She has toured three continents and presented to over a hundred thousand people in total. At the heart of her advocacy is her passion for creating change and celebrating diversity, which she highlights in her book, Different, Not Less.

Most recently, Chloe starred as one of the world's first autistic characters, Quinni, in Netflix's revival of Heartbreak High. Many grew up—even some of us in this chamber—watching television shows like Heartbreak High and comparing themselves to characters and choosing ones that they might relate to.

However, many autistic people have shared with me when they were growing up, they did not have the opportunity of turning on the television and seeing someone who they could relate to, and sometimes when they did they were stereotypical and often harmful representations of autism. Now, thanks to shows like Heartbreak High, and the Netflix series, this television show can be viewed all around the world and will now inspire autistic people all around the world.

Many autistic people took to Twitter to express their delight. One person said, 'Seeing an autistic character like Quinni on Heartbreak High makes me realise that I'm not as isolated as I thought'. Another wrote, 'Quinni is my favourite and makes me feel so seen and understood. My favourite character. I love the autistic representation.'

We know that autism is particularly difficult to be diagnosed in young women and girls. It can often be more difficult because it is masked and therefore harder to find the support needed at a younger age, and even throughout life. Autistic women have shared with me how they often feel marginalised, and so this representation of an autistic woman on their screens is incredibly crucial to the identity of autistic women and girls.

To have this representation transcend to an autistic woman winning the Rising Star of the Year award is incredibly powerful. I would like to read sections of Chloe's acceptance speech:

Growing up I was convinced that I wasn't supposed to be here. I was convinced I was a mistake…a glitch…that I was an alien that had crash landed on a planet that made absolutely no sense to me.

I grew up never seeing myself represented. I grew up knowing that my mind, everything that was my mind, was wrong and broken and strange and different. I was taught that different was bad because I never saw myself represented anywhere.

No one has ever made a change by being the same, no one has ever done anything by being the same and every single woman in this room tonight is showcasing that and showcasing just how important and brilliant and incredible 'different' is.

Change is made by being different and it is time that those who are different see themselves for who they are because who you are is exactly who you're supposed to be.

I hope that any young person in the room tonight and disabled person in the room tonight and whoever is watching this, if you have young children who are different understand that different isn't less, different is powerful and beautiful and so incredibly important.

Chloe is right. Change is made by being different, and it is fitting that this state government is doing exactly that; creating change by being different. Our statewide autism policies are nation firsts. We are creating change by building knowledge within our community, and to create a sense of belonging with the autistic and autism communities.

This state is seeking to create knowledge not just within the classrooms, but across the broader community and across the whole state, with a statewide charter and our first ever autism strategy, so that seeing an autistic character on our television shows will not be a rarity, but instead it will be a given, because we must remember, as Chloe said, being different is not less.