It’s been a nerve-wracking time to be out in the LGBTQIA+ community for many young people across Australia, with the marriage equality survey prompting active conversations about sexuality and gender. It’s also an exciting and affirming time, with rallies in support drawing over 30,000 people in Sydney and 20,000 in Melbourne. Living in a small country town in Bega Valley of South-East NSW, with a less-than-happening queer scene, I thought the interactions would fall more on the side of nerve-wracking than affirming.
I recently posted in the multiple local “Buy, sell, swap or notices” Facebook groups, amidst spare parts and bric-a-brac, reminding people to enrol for the marriage equality survey. I simultaneously joked that mates should “pray” for me and our Australian Young Greens rainbow dog meme. From the 15,000 members in those cumulative groups, however, there were only a handful of homophobic haters, who were quickly shut down by other members. Rainbow doggo got an overwhelming number of love reacts and supportive comments, and I got personal messages of support.
Instead of the negative public feedback I’d expected during the campaign, one amazing couple in Bega Valley painted their entire house rainbow. The local community centre organised a Marriage Equality event. The local town of Cobargo flew rainbow flags in every shopfront and up flag poles in support. People hung up posters down the main street of Bega and wrote letters to the editor of support.
When we look at the biggest problems facing queer young people today, the majority of oppression is incentivised by government and conservative media – not by ordinary workers in our community, who’ve showed overwhelming support through this campaign.
LGBTQIA+ people continue to face discrimination
Queer communities face sustained attacks on our livelihood in terms of healthcare, job security, access to education and mental health services. Pathology testing including for STDs has been made more expensive last year, despite the hundreds of thousands joining the #thesecutsarekillingus rallies across the country. HIV preventative medication PrEP is yet to be put on the PBS and made available across the country. Reassignment surgery remains prohibitively expensive and out of reach for transgender young people.
Young people in the LGBTQIA+ community face the highest proportion of homelessness in the country. In places like Bega Valley, the closest youth refuge is 3 hours drive away by car and almost inaccessible by public transport.
While campaigning as the Federal Greens Candidate for Eden-Monaro in the 2016 election, I received an anonymous letter from a mother about her son, who was so bullied and beaten up at school that he ran away and is living homeless in Sydney rather than face homophobia in his home town. She talked about her daughter at the same high school now having to “act straight”. These stories are echoed across the country and in Beyond Blue’s harrowing statistics.
Studies show 75% of same sex attracted young people aged between 14 and 21 years of age have experienced some form of homophobic bullying or abuse because of their sexuality, 80% while they were at school. LGBTQIA+ young people in Australia have up to 84 times higher rates of suicide attempts than their cis and hetero peers. This rises even higher for transgender people of colour.
Despite this, the Safe Schools program was watered down by Federal Liberal Government, and will be defunded completely after 2017. On a local level, the conservative members on Council pushed through a rescission motion of our support for the “Safe Schools” program, deeming it “unnecessary” and “inappropriate”. This is despite testimonials from students, school principals, teachers, and parents about how necessary the program is; how it could provide a lifeline to so many queer young people, and a pre-emptive education lesson to those few who were hating on rainbow doggo.
The attacks faced by young people in the LGBTQIA+ community intersect with racism, cis-sexism, classism, and sexism. The common denominator however, is the ever-increasing neoliberal attacks from consecutive Australian governments – not from your average Australian rainbow doggo loving worker.
Tamara Ryan is a member of Bega Valley Greens on the far NSW south coast and NSW Young Greens. She is an anarcho-communist, a unionist and a lawyer. She believes the core focus of the Greens should be amplifying social movements.