How Kat Dopper transformed the LGBTQ+ scene

By Brianna Porter. Published October 22, 2020.

Glitter falling all over the floor and on your shoes, the feeling of intoxication fills your body and the thumping of Cher’s hit Believe is felt in your chest. You’re dancing carelessly and witnessing the look of pure joy through the smiles on people’s faces as the neon lights shine down onto them. There is unspoken and unconditional permission to be whoever you want to be as you feel the united bond of everyone coming together.

This is the feeling Kat Dopper wants people to experience at her Heaps Gay parties. Kat Dopper, 39, is the brains behind the business that once started out as a spontaneous idea around a table at a friend’s barbeque. Heaps Gay is a community dedicated to creating all-inclusive events, experiences and charity support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Dopper moved to London in her 20s which was a pivotal transformation era for her. While she spent the majority of her life in country town Condobolin and then Sydney, she never felt she connected with the party scene at the time. She felt there was something missing. When she made the leap across the world, she started to find herself in spaces and going out, fully embracing her sexuality. In East London, Dopper stumbled upon a dodgy old pub named The George and Dragon – it was inclusive, colourful and queer. It smelt, the toilet doors were falling off, the floor was sticky. However, every person was welcoming and there was finally a sense of home for Dopper. “I really found myself there and remember thinking, ‘What is this heavenly place?’” she said.

When Kat Dopper came back to Sydney from London, she had one dream: to create a space that was true to her. The idea for Heaps Gay came about around a table in a backyard at a friend’s barbeque. Each person was tossing around ideas on this new party and Dopper recalls one her friends yelling out, “Heaps Gay!” and her sister firing back, “NO THAT SUCKS!” and everyone laughing. Heaps Gay was the winner. Dopper wanted to transform the meaning of the derogatory comment “gay” and rethink it to mean something positive.

After applying for and winning a grant, it was time to make her dream a reality. The first event was at The Gladstone. The rest is history. Dopper brings Heaps Gay wherever she likes. It’s been to Melbourne, Gold Coast, Thredbo and Newcastle. “I never would have dreamed that it would become a bloody business,” she said. Heaps Gay differentiates itself from the usual parties or clubs. It’s all about the people. “You know when you go to your friend’s house party and you’re having a good time and have no inhibitions, you’re just happy to talk to whoever you want to talk to. I think that’s the energy you get at a Heaps Gay party,” Dopper says. “The energy you get off each other is a nice feeling. I always say that vibe creates a party and you get a vibe from the people that are there.”

The reason Heaps Gay is still a success seven years on is because Dopper is authentic. She’s real. “I’ve always been myself. I’ve always been this bogan Condo kid and I’ve never tried to be someone else,” she says. Dopper gains satisfaction from her events. The reason she loves what she does is because she can witness the instant gratification from the events. “You get to see it on their faces. I really value the change that it is making for people and the community. I find that really special.” Not every person gets to say they created something that brings frequent joy to their lives. “It keeps me going,” she adds.

Dopper is appealingly open about her own coming out story. She laughs and has a very feminine voice as she recalls her coming out story as a late one being in her mid 20s. Living in the crowded streets of London for a few years, she sat her younger sister Suzie down, who came out many years before her as a lesbian, and spoke about her confusion of being in love with her straight female best friend.

Arriving back home, she rushed to tell her parents in person. “I was in a truck, we were driving and I just said something like, ‘Mum I don’t think I like boys,’ and she’s like, ‘Oh Kat, I don’t like boys either!’ [and] laughing and not understanding what I meant, so I said, ‘No… I don’t like like boys,'” laughed Dopper.

She pauses and reflects on her story. “I think I’m lucky because I’m a femme-identifying woman which makes it easier for me in society, I’ve got privilege in that way as opposed to somebody else so I’m very grateful for that. I’m lucky that I haven’t had much adversity in comparison to other people in our community,” she says. Dopper’s positive outlook is highlighted when she confesses, “I think society is getting better with accepting.”

Dopper has not been shy about her ambition. At a young age, she was a multi-talented child who learnt to embrace each opportunity that came her way. She did it all, from drama and singing to aerobics and dancing, all while juggling school. Her constant ache for challenges and routine is something that she still to this day possesses. Dopper has a drive and passion for life. She recalls a pivotal moment in her life that shaped who she is today. Back in her country hometown Condobolin, her drama teacher told her to “always say yes in life” and she has lived by it ever since. She refers to herself as a “glass being half full” kind of girl.

Dopper doesn’t stop. She was a former radio presenter for four years covering LGBTQ+ culture and raising awareness and visibility on radio. From August 2019 to March 2020 she worked as the creative director for the 2020 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. It was her biggest project yet. “It was a crazy experience. It was a whirlwind and a challenge, but inspiring and insane,” she adds. Public speaking is one of Dopper’s greatest fears which she had to overcome for this position.

Dopper recalls going to the Mardi Gras parade for the first time when she was only 17 years old. She’d stand on top of milk crates for hours just to get a glimpse of the colourful and lively parade, her feet aching but with the biggest smile on her face and her body filled with joy. Mardi Gras was one of her favourite times of the year, dragging all her friends to the Oxford Street parade each year. Little did she know that 20 years later she would be working on it.

“Being in and working for Mardi Gras is bigger than you. You have to see it as being a caretaker for an organisation that has been running for 42 years.” For Dopper it was all about what can she could “do to make it better.”

With the commotion of the city and the demands of running a business, it is easy to get swept away in the hustle of it all. One of the important things that grounds Dopper is her partner, Brooklyn Brady. The two have been together for five years and currently live in Newtown, with their miniature schnauzer Winona. Yes, named after Winona Ryder. Kat and Brooklyn’s love story began in the millennial way of Instagram. Dopper recalls receiving a random follow on the app, and so immediately she followed back. She admits her cluelessness when she laughs, saying it took her months to realise Brooklyn was flirting with her the whole time.

When asked how Brooklyn describes Kat, they both landed upon fearless and a risk taker. “So much so that it can be annoying at times, flighty, distracted and she’s constantly energetic.” Dopper isn’t one to conform to society’s norms; instead she goes against. She doesn’t believe in the tradition of marriage, but maybe one day will consider it with her partner. “She’s always looking at the world through rose coloured glasses… that kind of positive outlook on life.”

However, Dopper is quick to interrupt, acknowledging that although there are benefits to seeing the positives in life and taking every opportunity, there are also consequences. “People can really take advantage of that,” she admits and there’s suddenly a pause where Dopper opens up about her more vulnerable self.

“To be honest, lots of great things haven’t come from saying yes,” she admits. “There’s been projects that I’ve worked on and that have failed.” But most important, Dopper says, “You can’t focus on that – you can only focus on the positives.”

Dopper is unsure where her next “yes” will take her. But one thing she knows is it will always be exciting.

All Heaps Gay events are currently on hold due to COVID-19.

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