She may have been described as Australia’s answer to Lady Gaga, but burlesque queen Glitta Supernova is not all fun and frivolity.
She knows that growing up LGBTQIA+ in regional areas can be lonely, which is why she started the Coastal Twist Festival – the first ever arts and culture diversity event on the NSW Central Coast.
With performances from almost 50 artists, the festival drew more than 7000 people to the peninsula when it launched in 2019 but, more importantly, helped local young people to find themselves – and each other – under a rainbow flag.
“It was the first time many young LGBTQIs were among other sexually or gender-diverse kids,” says Glitta. “The joy you saw when they first met ... just being able to be themselves, express themselves in safe spaces – that was a tear-jerker.”
For Glitta, the groundswell of local support buoyed her crusade to help local LGBTQIA+ people lost on the margins of society. “We put on Coastal Twist to unite a community that has been left in the dark for way too long,” she says. “We had to take everyone on a journey of what diversity looks like. Because, in our eyes, diversity is normal.
“The whole community came to support it. Just everyday people in our community, mums bringing their children, because they want them to understand this is the way the world is.”
The daughter of Dutch immigrants who moved to Lennox Head, Glitta grew up as Sonja Bijl. After moving to Sydney aged 17 seeking adventure and a like-minded community, she joined the 90s underground performance scene and changed her name. Along the way she spearheaded a live performance genre merging burlesque, cabaret, comedy, strip art and, in her words, “sex clownery”.
In 2001, with fellow performer Sex Intents, she opened Australia’s first burlesque club, Gurlesque, a strip-club for women. The underground club’s 10-year-run built a genre of “bent burlesque”, attracting devoted audiences and a community seeking a home. Back then, her style of unorthodox entertainment was far from the mainstream.
“I looked like Lady Gaga in the early 1990s,” she says. “That was considered freaky then but now it’s become acceptable. I’ve always flown the freak flag and it’s pretty hard. You’re basically on the front line for change.”
With Coastal Twist she is smashing stereotypes and changing culture again. After moving to Umina Beach in 2012, and having faced a battle with cancer, Glitta realised there was little to no support network for diverse communities in the area.
“It’s really weird,” she says. “We’re an hour from Sydney, probably the queerest city in Australia, and you would think there would be a lot more on offer here for the community. But all of the LGBTQIA+ youth on the Central Coast are really isolated. It’s almost like they should be in the 1950s.”
In response, Glitta co-founded the Naughty Noodle Fun Haus, a not-for-profit arts organisation in Ettalong Beach to foster inclusivity in the area and showcase counterculture performance art, drag, circus and burlesque from local and visiting artists.
Buoyed by its success, Glitta dreamed bigger. In a bid to further help the LGBTQIA+ community, and foster new perceptions of the Central Coast, Glitta and her partner co-created Coastal Twist.
“I truly believe through arts and culture you can shift people’s perceptions,” she says. “Just the fact that people can see themselves reflected in their society, it’s such a powerful thing.”
For Glitta, Coastal Twist has become much bigger than simply putting on an event. “I want the world to be a better place and I only know how to do that through creativity because that’s my tool. “We just wanted to give back to the community.”