Courtney Act on Pride, boundaries, and why we shouldn’t ‘pander’ to the bigots

Courtney Act

Courtney Act is officially back living Down Under, but the RuPaul’s Drag Race superstar remains firmly at top of her game as she prepares to welcome the global queer community to Australia for Sydney WorldPride next February.

Between appearances on ITV’s celebrity drag extravaganza Queen for the Night and eloquently shutting down an Australian senator who described her recent storytime segment on ABC kids’ show Play Time as “grooming”, fierce LGBTQ+ advocate Courtney remains as booked, busy and inspiring as ever.

That’s not set to change in 2023 as she joins the line-up for Sydney WorldPride.

As it heads to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, WorldPride will feature a technicolour rainbow of events including an unforgettable Pride March across the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and an opening ceremony headlined by Aussie pop princess and certified LGBTQ+ icon Kylie Minogue.

For longtime Sydney resident and WorldPride ambassador Courtney, the 17-day event is a chance to share Australia’s “queer mecca” with the world.

PinkNews caught up with Courtney to find out what makes Sydney Mardi Gras such a “spectacular” experience for LGBTQ+ people, how to be an advocate without compromising your own mental health, and why, as a general rule, you should pay the haters no mind…

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Hi Courtney! We have to assume you’ve been to a lot of Prides over the years. What makes Pride in Sydney so special?

I have been to a lot of Prides! So, first of all, it’s in February and March (it’s taking place between 17 February and 5 March, 2023). And I know how amazing the weather is at that time. If anybody ever needed an excuse to get away to a sunny place at that time of year, this is it! But the thing I love about Mardi Gras and World Pride is that Sydney is such a beautiful city. It’s by the beach, it’s by the harbour and it’s just the perfect moment with all of the international guests coming from overseas to celebrate.

Courtney Act overlooking the Sydney Opera House from the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Courtney Act is an official ambassador for Sydney WorldPride 2023 (Getty Images/James D. Morgan)

Another thing I love is that the Sydney Pride Parade, the Mardi Gras, is a night-time parade. And I just always feel that there is such a focus that comes with darkness. The lighting and the fireworks are so much more impactful. It just feels so spectacular!

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Where can your fans find you?

I’m hosting Live and Proud, the opening ceremony on February 24th. And perhaps more importantly, Kylie Minogue is performing! It’ll be our own little Glastonbury! 

Sydney is a really special place for a lot of LGBTQ+ Australians. Why do you think that is?

I guess it’s the same reason that first drew people to London, New York or San Francisco. They were the big cities where, as queer people, we were looking for sanctuary from suburbia and heteronormative life. Sydney and specifically Darlinghurst became the place where I remember when I arrived in Sydney in 2000. Oxford Street in Sydney was this gay wonderland! Just across the park, you couldn’t walk down the mall holding hands with another boy. But on Oxford Street, you could. It was always a place where you can be yourself.

You were recently targeted by conservative Australian senator Alex Antic who accused you of “grooming” on your drag queen storytime TV show. Does it worry you that US-style culture wars could be spreading to Australia?

I think that lockdown and COVID was a time where a lot of people felt powerless. And I think that there were probably more people who stumbled down dark rabbit holes of the internet. But I think that like in Australia it’s so isolated, that it’s almost not worth mentioning? I feel like just not responding is also a very valid response, because it’s such a minority opinion. There hasn’t been a huge uprising of support for him or anything like that. You know, anybody with a brain to be quite frank can watch my school storytime and say: “That’s actually really sweet, isn’t that lovely?” 

Courtney Act in a black dress and coat
Courtney Act was recently accused of “grooming children” by conservative Australian senator Alex Antic (Joseph Sinclair)

So, you think sometimes it’s maybe best to ignore it?

ABC, where my storytime is broadcast, its mandate is about representation and reflecting the Australian people. ABC out of all the broadcasters is the most thoughtful and the most considerate and the most respected. It’s one of those things where like, it happened, I did write an op-ed for the Sydney Morning Herald, but I haven’t really heard anything about it since and everybody is obviously overwhelmingly supportive. Sometimes it’s maybe better not to pander to a vocal minority who really aren’t representative of what most people think.

Do you think things are getting better now for the younger generation of LGBTQ+ Australians? Or is there still a lot of ignorance out there?

I definitely have seen huge changes for the younger generation, for the better! But I think with queer people, there is sometimes this expectation that everybody understands the nuances of our identities. For example, drag queens and trans people. We know inside the queer community the differences between the two and how they sometimes intersect, but on the outside, people have got busy lives and don’t always understand the intricacies of our community. It’s not always that they don’t know something on purpose, it’s just they’ve got their own lives and haven’t had the time to think about it. 

Explaining complex queer issues calmly and simply is a real talent of yours. We saw that when you appeared on Big Brother in the UK. How do you do it?

I think my ability to remain calm and explain things is also to do with my privilege. I was literally at a 10-day silent meditation retreat when the senator said those things about me. I’m 40, I’ve been in therapy and I’ve read the books, you know? I’ve done the work myself on unpacking the shame of growing up queer in a heteronormative world. Doing that has been the most important thing for me. When someone says something about me to detract from who I am, I’ve realised that it says more about them than it does about me. 

Courtney Act in a black suit jacket
Courtney Act rose to fame on RuPaul’s Drag Race season six (Joseph Sinclair)

With social media, you could spend all day every day calling out injustice. How have you managed to set those boundaries for yourself?

I think people have to be aware of what their boundaries are and if calling someone or something out will lead to you hurting yourself, or putting yourself in a place where you’ll be in more pain, then you have to consider whether that’s something that you want to do to yourself. And there’s a lot of great resources out there that you can give to people if you want to explain things to them without having to do the emotional labour yourself, because it can be hard! So yeah, I think just having that compassion and that understanding of yourself and your own boundaries is really important.

How come you decided to move back to Australia?

I moved to the UK in 2018 after Big Brother. I was in London living through lockdowns and a pandemic and then my manager was like, “Come home!” In Australia there was sort of pretty much social freedom. It was a pretty idyllic situation being back and just being back here, kind of fell in love with it again? Because I normally always like travelling and being so busy, but it was nice to lay down some roots. Although at the moment I am coming to you live from a mattress on the floor, because I have no furniture yet!

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We miss you in the UK! When are you coming back for a visit?

I know! I just did Queen for the Night on ITV. And I’m on That’s My Jam on BBC One soon, which is fun. And yeah, I’m definitely still working on projects over there. I’ve officially moved back to Australia now, but I’ll hopefully be back on UK screens soon too and also doing some live shows!

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