Amex With You &Proud Recipient Jodie Eekelschot On Her Journey From Conservative To Unwaveringly Supportive

In January, American Express launched their With You &Proud campaign in tandem with Sydney WorldPride.

Jodie Eekelschot

The campaign called upon allies and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, to nominate someone they're truly proud of and who deserves the opportunity to attend Sydney WorldPride – a celebration of queer pride which brought audiences from across the globe to revel in the colour and joy of being a part of the community.

American Express embarked on a national search, seeking those who have driven change, challenged the status quo, and overcome significant barriers.

In their search, they discovered 30 individuals deserving of the WorldPride experience. These individuals bravely shared their stories of acceptance, celebration, and allyship.

The recipients of this experience were selected by a panel of representatives from community organisations, Sydney WorldPride and American Express' Pride+ Network.

Each of the With You &Proud recipients has a unique story to tell. One of them is Jodie Eekelschot. Jodie was nominated by her son Matthew. Jodie – from the mining sector of regional Queensland – shows the pride she has for her queer son at work by rocking rainbow shoelaces, and using her platform to educate. Plus, she's even established groups in her community to share information about the struggles queer people face. . . But she wasn't always open to all of this – coming from a conservative background.

Jodie's journey from conservative to unapologetically proud of her son and unwaveringly willing to stand up for the LGBTQIA+ community is inspiring. We sat down with Jodie to learn more.

You’re an example of someone who might describe their background as conservative but who has a queer son. Can you talk about what sorts of things you felt when he came out to you initially?
When Matt came out to me I felt shocked and confused; my mind was racing. Where did I miss it? When did this happen? I said very little at the time. I just couldn't speak. Matt called me to say that he was gay and in a relationship with a man and that was it! I couldn't believe what I had just heard and I just shut down. I did not want to talk, or even think about it. I also felt betrayed that someone hadn't told me sooner and this was being discussed among his siblings. I just remember that it was a very difficult time for me. It was completely against my whole belief system and I was afraid for him and his life going forward. I had seen (on many occasions) people being ridiculed, disregarded and blocked from opportunities due to their sexuality and I did not want my son to face the same type of adversity.

Jodie Eekelschot rainbowlaces
Jodie wearing her rainbow laces to work

What were some of the steps you took to overcome your conservative views on the matter?
I had asked myself: 'what is the most important outcome in this situation?' No matter what I believed, or what I was taught, or what people would say, I had to completely erase my mindset, my whole belief system, to become a blank canvas. I couldn't imagine my life without Matthew, no matter what he identified as, or who he was in a relationship with. Nothing else mattered to me, but my love for my son and to ensure that he knew I loved him unconditionally.

You’ve even established groups in your community to share the struggles of the queer community. Can you tell us a bit about this?
Becoming an ally at work has given me an opportunity to educate, create awareness, and to make change. It has also given me a place where I could truly connect with the LGBTQIA+ community. This connection has been a time of healing for me and has strengthened my relationship with my son. I am thankful that I am part of a global business that supports the LGBTQIA+ community. I am now helping to support others and provide a platform where everyone belongs.

Why do you think it’s important for other parents who might be in the position you were in, to consider the bigger picture when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community?
I couldn’t imagine waking up each day and not having a relationship with Matthew. One thing that I did know through this journey was that no matter what I believed, or what anyone said, I was not going to lose my son in any capacity. I knew that I needed time to map through a process to get to a place of comfort and understanding with peace in my heart. I knew how amazing Matthew was before he was even born, he is my eldest of twins. We have always had a strong connection. He is an amazing human and has so much love to give back to life and our community. I wanted him to have a safe place where he can talk to me about everything. I would encourage any parent of a gay child to not miss one moment, our journey is too short.

What advice do you have for a parent (or anyone, for that matter) who might be struggling to understand why they should accept their queer child/someone in their life who is queer?
This is a really hard question. My journey has been so personal.

What’s the best thing about being the parent of a queer child?
My Matthew! If you don't know Matthew, you need to! I am so proud to be his mum. He inspires me to be a better person, to think differently, and to love unconditionally without prejudice. The way he helps the youth in his work is inspirational. His love for people and his community is truly inspirational.

Jodie Eekelschot AMEX 2
Jodie and Matthew Eekelschot

You’re the recipient of an experience provided by American Express – who were Principal Partners of Sydney WorldPride – called With You &Proud. Firstly, what did it mean to be nominated by your son for this?
I didn't realise how much it meant to Matt that I was an ally at work. Matthew inspired me to become more aware and help other LGBTQIA+ community members and their families. I am very aware that not all people that identify as LGBTQIA+ are accepted by their parents or families and in some situations they are shunned by their parents due to their sexuality.

And how was it to attend the celebrations? What was your favourite part?
My favourite experiences as part of American Express’ With You &Proud initiative were going to AMEX house and meeting The Veronicas, seeing Kylie Minogue perform and the mini makeover at Mecca. But the best part was spending time with Matt and learning about his community. We also got the chance to spend time together talking about some of the challenges that he has faced since coming out. Another part of our healing journey together.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the queer experience since changing how you view it?
Becoming an ally and being able to speak out about discrimination towards the LGBTQIA+ community has opened my eyes to the adversity that so many of them go through. Someone's sexuality is none of our business. Even though there is an awareness of the LGBTQIA+ community, they are still subject to ridicule and harassment. Helping others in the community gives me a sense of pride knowing that my son is supported and loved.