For 25 years, the gay youth of Adelaide have had just one place to find group support from people who understand.
Each fortnight, the “Evolve” project for women and the “Inside Out” project for men at the state-run Second Story Youth Health Centre have provided safe, confidential drop-in groups for gay and queer young people.
These projects have been free, well-attended and of great support for Adelaide’s young gay community.
The effectiveness and popularity of these projects have meant that Adelaide has had no need for other drop-in groups for gay youth.
Yet from July 1, these group services are to be cut.
Instead of providing an alternative support group, young people will now have to prove their vulnerability to have access to counsellor and referral services. Being young and gay will no longer be enough.
Gipsy Hoskings, 24, moved to Adelaide from Canberra as a teenager. In a city where she knew hardly anyone, the Evolve project was the only place for her to get the support she needed.
“I have no idea what would have happened to me if it wasn’t for Evolve, it has changed my life in ways I can’t explain,” Hoskings told Green Left Weekly.
“You can see the transformation with people from when they first attend. They go from being quiet and withdrawn, to begin to grow in confidence and just be who they are without setting up walls and barriers like usual.”
The strength of the drop-in groups was that they were there just for support. Under the proposed new system counsellors will be used to “fix” young people.
Hoskings thinks this will scare off anyone who may to access the service in the future.
“Basically what they are now saying is that young gay people no longer count as vulnerable, which is just so wrong.”
In 2010, the South Australian government recognised the specific needs and vulnerability of young gay people in its Youth Strategy 2010-2014.
It said, “targeted responses are often required to meet the specific needs of different groups of young people, in particular those who … are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer”.
Despite this written recognition, the government has contradicted itself by no longer affording them safe group support.
Although young gay people can still access counsellor services, a 2007 report by the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society highlighted the effectiveness of group support for gay youth.
The report, titled This group gave me a family, found that “belonging to a group for four months led to significant improvements in how young people felt about their sexuality”.
However, the Second Story has remained steadfast in its decision to cut the projects.
Current Peer Educator for the Inside Out project Allan Ooi is extremely frustrated by the Second Story management’s lack of transparency and consultation with those involved in the projects.
Ooi told GLW: “The longer they drag this, the more likely that people will just give up hope. I think that’s what they are after. I think that is why they are not telling us outright.
“Because they are being wishy-washy about it, some people think that there is hope, that if we send more letters of submission to the management, they might change their mind.”
Ooi is also annoyed at the management’s continual refusal to directly answer questions about the changes.
“We were never told what outcomes we were supposed to be achieving,” he said. “They cancelled a meeting with us and moved it to a hospital conference room in North Adelaide during business hours, where nobody knew where it was, because they were afraid of being questioned.”
The Second Story management released a statement outlining the reasons for the proposed changes. It said a more general case-by-case system would be more efficient and effective.
“Our new aim is to provide better services through improved access to services for vulnerable young people; increased service provision; better targeted interventions; more holistic care and greater involvement of young people in their own care and in service,” the statement said.
Greens MLC Tammy Franks and Liberal health spokesperson Duncan McFetridge have criticised the South Australian Labor government in parliament over the issue.
Peer educators from Second Story will hold a community forum on June 4, at 1pm at lecture theatre 28, Lower Napier building, Adelaide University, North Terrace.
Anyone worried about the loss of Evolve and Inside Out are urged to attend and question Second Story management and relevant MP’s.
[Sign the online petition to save Evolve and Inside Out at gopetition.com/petitions/save-iso-and-evolve.html For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org .]