Varshini Viswanath (student ambassador)
Annika Reynolds, a Bachelor of International Security Studies/Laws (Hons) student at The Australian National University (ANU), has been awarded Lifeline Canberra’s 2021 Rising Women of Spirit Award. The award honours those women and gender-diverse people who have persevered through personal adversity to make a positive and inspiring change in society.
In this Q&A, Annika shares their personal challenges and how they motivated them to establish the Rainbow Bee-Eaters LGBTIQA+ Group.GreenLaw, a young person-led climate justice research and advocacy group. Photo: Lifeline Canberra
Can you tell us about the Rainbow Bee-Eaters LGBTQIA+ Group and what inspired you to establish it?
Together with Isabel Moss, we were inspired to establish this group because we noticed that there was a gap in the LGBTIQA+ friendly groups for recreational outdoor activities, which was discouraging trans and gender diverse people, and those with disabilities, from participating.
What does it mean to you to receive this award?
I was honoured, humbled and a little shocked. It was a moment of deep reflection for me, and an opportunity to recognise within myself all that I have overcome in the last few years. In a lot of my advocacy work, I pride myself on my professionalism, but this also limits the space for me to acknowledge within myself that I am a living person who is also recovering from significant trauma.
What kept you motivated throughout personal challenges and the stress of studies?
Some days I am thriving – I feel connected to my community and like I am making a genuine difference – and on other days, I walk through grey clouds, listless and unmotivated, feeling isolated and unwanted. I have been very lucky to be supported by incredible and compassionate mentors, notably Professor Vivien Holmes and Associate Professor Will Bateman, and a strong network at ANU and in Canberra.
I have also been motivated by my very deep concern for climate change and ecological destruction, and the equally real hopes of climate action and contributing to future communities that are more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.
What message would you offer those enduring challenges brought on by mental illness, either to themselves personally or to a loved one?
As I said at the Women Rising Event, whilst the legacy that has been gifted upon me has been one of trauma and pain, I – and all of us – have the incredible opportunity to craft a different one of sustainability and harmony with nature.
It's hard; your pain, frustration and confusion are valid. Mental illness is incredibly complex and intersects with someone’s personal background and trauma, their socio-economic class, their gender and sexuality and race.
But I find solace in the enduring love of those closest to me, and that love gives me the strength to be compassionate to myself.
And finally, what’s next for you as you prepare to graduate from ANU?
I am overjoyed to be working for one of my inspirations next year, Justice Rachel Pepper of the NSW Land and Environment and Court as a tipstaff. I will also be continuing my environmental and LGBTIQA+ advocacy, notably through GreenLaw, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and the Rainbow Bee-Eaters LGBTIQA+ Group.
And finally, I will be taking time off this summer to travel with my partner (COVID-allowing). We'll be doing lots of alpine treks and bird-watching expeditions, without cell reception or the exception that I perform as a leader. This year has been a big one for me - and I'm taking my own advice to rest and heal.