Gender diversity advocate Anton Cavalli has been nominated as Activist of the Year in the annual Brisbane Pride Queen’s Ball awards.
The Woody Point resident was surprised and delighted to be nominated for the award.
“I don’t know who nominated me, but (my wife) Bec does,” he laughs.
“I didn’t know until my best friend Samson said ‘congrats bro’ – I said ‘thanks…but what nomination ?’.
|“I don’t care if I don’t win – the nomination is good enough for me.”|
It’s been a big year for Anton, who has been working in transgender advocacy and education in hospitals and health care while juggling his coffee business, Cosa Nostra Coffee, which he created with the mentorship of coffee king Phillip Di Bella.
“The coffee business is funding everything I do,” he says.
Educating doctors and nurses
His advocacy journey began thanks to a friend who works at Brighton Health, who suggested Anton join their consumer council to bring a perspective from the LGBTIQA+ community.
When Brighton Health heard Anton’s story, they asked him to share it with doctors and nurses to help them deliver better service and support for patients.
Such was the success of the workshops – which have the title of ‘Anton’s story: A tale of two titties’ – as a nod to his breast cancer journey that led to a mastectomy and hysterectomy, that he was invited to deliver similar programs at Redcliffe Hospital.
Those led to him being appointed to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency’s Community Advisory Council.
“I went to a consumer health forum at on the Sunshine Coast and the Queensland state manager of AHPRA was there and asked me to apply for a position on the committee,” Anton explains.
“I’m there as a diversity advocate because I have extensive medical experience as a patient but I also have lived experience as a trans man.
“We’re looking at better ways to regulate the health system and giving input into reviewing protocols.”
Anton’s also applied to attend the World Health Conference on Public Health in Rome this year to speak about oncology and gender diverse people, and if he’s accepted has vowed to add a special destination to his journey.
“When I was a child, I promised my Nona I would go over there and throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain and I never got to.”
Raised in a strict religious household in rural Victoria, Anton, who was born female, realised at the age of four that he felt different from his peers.
It filled him with shame and horror and forms the foundation of his talks educating doctors and nurses about the journey trans people can experience.
“I lived a very repressed life as a child,” Anton explains.
“I went through my struggles as a kid trying to work out that discrepancy, thinking that I was dirty.
“When I became pubescent then the attraction started. I was attracted to the same sex, but I didn’t feel like a woman.
“I was going through puberty and having a same-sex attraction, but I didn’t feel like a lesbian.
“Then I was diagnosed with a brain tumour and my world turned upside down. Between 14 and 26 I had 13 brain operations.”
The operations caused an acquired brain injury and Anton had to learn to walk again.
A true survivor
“I thought I would never be able to transition because I was not strong enough – life became about survival – I didn’t start until I was 34,” Anton, who turned 40 this year, says.
“I started medically transitioning and I left my religion – that sparked rejections and emails and phone messages.
"I would not wish it on anyone, but it's brought me so much happiness and joy."
He found his way from regional Victoria to Queensland after meeting singer Abby Skye at a festival in Geelong.
She invited him to visit to write songs with her, which eventually led Anton back to the Redcliffe Peninsula, where he was born, to stay with cousins before moving out on his own.
On the brink of proposing to wife Bec, Anton was diagnosed with terminal cancer, which led to a hysterectomy - the silver lining to his cancer journey.
Anton suggested they take a break from their relationship when they got the news, but Bec refused, for which he’s eternally grateful.
“My beautiful wife brought love into my life and love is the most powerful force in the universe."
“The oncology team at Redcliffe is brilliant, along with the team at Brilliance Counselling, who referred me to my naturopath Janet Schloss, and through her I met my public speaking coach (journalist and media trainer) Kim Skubris.”
Anton’s most recent scans show he is almost completely cancer-free, with his progress astonishing his medical team
Last week he launched three Rainbow Rooms in conjunction with Metro North Health’s Community and Oral Health service – at the North Lakes Health Precinct, the Brighton Wellness Hub and the Zillmere Residential Transition Care Program.
“The Rainbow Rooms will help support diversity, inclusiveness and health outcomes,” Anton says.
Anton says that with the LGBTIQA+ community recognised as experiencing poor health outcomes, the rooms will give staff, patients, residents and families access to peers with lived experience who can point them in the direction of education, resources, and relevant services for social and emotional care and wellbeing.
“They’re not just for the LGBTIQA+ community, they’re for people of all kinds of diversity – different races and religions,” he says.
“They will be staffed by volunteers for two hours on a Monday afternoon and we’ll have a list of services available or just be there to listen if people want to talk.”
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