Study finds more needs to be done for young LGBTI people

February 16, 2021
'All love is equal' sign from a 2017 marriage equality rally in Sydney. Photo: Peter Boyle

Australia’s largest ever study of young LGBTI people has found that while a majority feel supported by friends, more needs to be done.

Writing Themselves In 4 was released by the Australia Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society with the support of Rainbow Health Victoria and Rainbow Network on February 3.

More than 6000 young people, aged between 14 and 21, answered questions on education, homelessness, harassment, mental health and community connections over 2019.

La Trobe Associate Professor Adam Bourne said the report found that LGBTI young people did suffer ongoing and significant stigma, discrimination, violence and abuse including “in public, in their homes, on the sports field and at school”.

“We have to recognise that context as we reflect upon the very high rates of poor mental health that we documented,” Bourne said.

Marina Carman, co-author, La Trobe Research Fellow and Director of Rainbow Health Victoria said meaningful and sustained action is still required to try and stop “harm before it occurs”.

“We need to build on existing efforts, work toward greater coordination and build the strategic vision necessary to drive home generational change.”

The report found:

• 81% of respondents experience high or very high levels of psychological distress;

• 24% had been homeless and for 11.5% it was in the past year, often connected to their family’s rejection of their sexuality;

• Just over 10% had attempted suicide and 25% had attempted suicide at some point in their lives;

• Trans and gender-diverse young people experience disproportionately poor health outcomes; and

• Rural youth experience more harassment or assault and were more likely to face mental health challenges compared with those living in cities.

Not only do LGBTI young people experience many forms of daily discrimination that can lead to homelessness and mental health pressures, they also face discrimination when accessing health and welfare services, the report also found.

This is even more pronounced for trans and gender-diverse young people. As a result, many do not seek help.

A member of the youth advisory committee said it was important that services change “so when people are in crisis they actually have somewhere to land”.

They continued: “Gendering people correctly, using the correct name and pronouns, gender affirmation pathways, connecting to community, connecting to role models, connecting to friends, having support groups that are LGBTIQA+ ... we need to start looking at these things as suicide prevention.”

Meanwhile, Victoria’s parliament passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Prohibition Bill 2020 on February 5, that bans LGBTI conversion practices or “therapies”.

Such practices are aimed at suppressing a person’s sexual or gender identity and can include counseling, prayer, scripture reading, fasting, retreats and “spiritual healing”.

These approaches are not only unscientific, they have been widely condemned by medical professionals.

Hobsons Bay councillor and intersex advocate Tony Briffa told the Star Observer on January 24 that they will boycott Melbourne’s Pride March if the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) is allowed to take part.

Intersex people are born with physical or biological sex characteristics that don’t fit binary ideas around male and female bodies.

Briffa cited the ongoing involuntary or coerced medical interventions on young intersex people being performed at the hospital as the reason behind their decision.

“Imagine being a proud member of the LGBTI community, and a survivor of childhood and adolescent conversion therapies, and seeing the organisation that tried to make you fit heteronormative stereotypes welcomed into the Melbourne Pride March,” Briffa said.

“Current interventions by the RCH include surgically reducing the size of clitorises in baby girls who have clitorises deemed too big by doctors, forced testosterone injections given to baby boys with certain intersex variations, and the surgical removal of healthy gonads in some intersex children to remove any possible intersex trait.

“None of these interventions are medically necessary, nor are they conducted with the consent of the children involved.”

Switchboard, a Victorian LGBTI welfare service, is backing Briffa’s call for RCH to stop performing surgeries on intersex infants and children. It is also urging LGBTI organisations to speak up on intersex rights.

The Victorian Pride Lobby organised a #RainbowVotes campaign to support LGBTI local council candidates and allies in last year’s council elections.

As a result, double the number of LGBTI candidates stood for and were elected to local government. There are now four LGBTI mayors and 28 LGBTI councillors across 19 local council areas.

Victorian Pride Lobby (VPL) continues to provide support for these councillors, including: pushing for new LGBTI advisory committees on council; urging local councils to take part in LGBTI events, including flying the rainbow flag on these dates; carrying out community plans for greater LGBTI-specific services; and for an accreditation process to encourage organisations to be safe and inclusive — the “Rainbow Tick”.

The VPL’s campaign has laid the basis for significant change at a local government level.

[Sarah Hathway is a national co-convener of the Socialist Alliance and was active in the marriage equality campaign in Geelong.]

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