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Cultural Change

The Coming Out Proud Program advocates and supports cultural change to improve social outcomes for the GLBTI community. Support is offered through the initiatives of both the Coming Out Proud Program and Outreach Youth, which assert that the following pattern of events occurs in many of our social institutions:

  • promotion of the heterosexual norm is subtle and pervasive, and can result, even unwittingly, in the emergence of homophobia and transphobia;
  • the emergence of these phobias can lead to discrimination against, and harassment of, people who do not fit the heterosexual norm; and
  • the resulting discrimination and harassment result in significantly higher rates of self-harm and suicide among sexually- and gender-diverse people.

The negative consequences for GLBTI Australians of harassment and discrimination have been well-researched and documented, and so the need for cultural change is clear. See the section below entitled "Statistics on Self-Harm" for references to recent research, and click here to read the compelling story of one woman's experience of coming to terms with her sexuality as a teenager in a Victorian country town.

Schools

COPP supports an inclusive learning culture in schools, in which students of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities feel respected and valued and are physically and psychologically safe. While the policies of the Tasmanian educational authorities support the achievement of this ideal, COPP recognises that it is not yet a reality in many schools.

The Outright Youth program in each region is operated in accordance with a locally developed COPP Management Plan. Outright Youth comprises a significant part of the local/regional Management Plan as follows:

  • Making Tasmania a safer place for the youth of the GLBTI community to ‘come out’ with dignity and pride;
  • Working with schools and youth organisations on lowering the amount of bullying of GLBTI people using the Elizabeth College Glitz Network model;
  • Outright Youth has initiated a program using the specially designed toolkit and cultural awareness package Not Round Here with all schools and Polytechnics, to identify teachers and social workers who will be able to help GLBTI students when they’re in need of help at school or college;
  • A commitment in all schools and youth organisations to invest in GLBTI “Peer Youth Leaders” who can work with teachers and other professionals to ensure a safe and positive environment that acknowledges, respects and celebrates diversity; and
  • Creating social opportunities and events to allow young sexually and gender diverse people to celebrate in a safe and welcoming environment.

Research in Britain* has shown the long-term consequences that bullying at school has on sexually- and gender-diverse people:

  • 53 per cent of gay men and lesbians had contemplated self-harm as a direct result of having been bullied at school;
  • 40 per cent had attempted self-harm or suicide on at least one occasion; and
  • 30 per cent had done so more than once.
*Rivers, Ian,The Bullying of Sexual Minorities At School: Its Nature and Long Term Correlates, Educational and Child Psychology, 2001, Vol 18(1)

 

Resources

COPP advocates and supports programs which promote cultural change within schools by increasing awareness of the issues among staff and students. Following are links to resources that we believe to be effective in facilitating that change.

Beyond "That's so gay!"

Daniel Witthaus has been involved in dealing with homophobia in schools and in rural, regional and remote areas for over 20 years, and on his website he has links to some great material from his research and the three books he has published. Under the banner of NICHE (The National Institute for Challenging Homophobia Education), Daniel facilitates forums for those who work with young same-sex-attracted and gender-queer young people in rural, regional and remote areas.

Not Round Here

The Australian Human Rights Commission's LGBTI Equality page lists relevant resources, including Not Round Here, which was developed by Daniel Witthaus to support GLBTI people living in rural Australia. It will help teachers and service providers protect the rights of their gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex students and clients. You can download the manual (PDF, 6.75MB) and access the press release on the Commission's site.

Safe Space Kit

This package, which was developed by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in the US, provides concrete strategies for supporting LGBT students, educating about anti-LGBT bias and advocating for changes in the school. You can download the kit and related documents on the access the GLSEN website.

Bullying. No way!

This website is maintained by Australian educational authorities and has some great resources for teachers, parents and students, including bullying on the basis of sexuality.

Elizabeth College GLBTI Network

The Elizabeth College GLBTI Network is a confidential, discreet and informal forum and support group for students. Students and teachers can obtain information on the Network and how it operates by emailing Arlette Mercae.

GLBTI Cultural Awareness Training Consortium

COPP is forming a consortium of trainers who will develop and present GLBTI cultural awareness training package for staff in schools and other organisations. This resource, which will include a PowerPoint presentation (45 mins), will assist Teachers and other professionals to provide services in a supportive and accepting environment, regardless of their sexuality or other status.

LGBTI School Tool Kit

Following are some links to print-ready material - brochures, leaflets & posters on special counselling and educational, policing, anti-discrimination, health services and social opportunities - as well as mainstream resources that are appropriate for young people.

  • Beyond "That's so gay!" has a section dedicated to resources for schools.
  • Reach Out Australia has some terrific material available on Personal Identity.
  • Rainbow Network Victoria has some great resources, including the POSH
    (Peers Out-Smarting Homophobia) booklet.
  • Gay and Lesbian Switchboard offers free and confidential telephone counselling, information and referrals for the GLBTI communities in Victoria and Tasmania - you can phone them on 1800 184 527 or access a list of Tasmanian resources.
  • Youth BeyondBlue has a useful fact sheet on depression and anxiety in young people who are GLBTI.
  • Not So Straight - a NSW-based site - has some good resources for young people.
  • The Trevor Project - US site - has some good resources on youth suicide, recognising the warning signs and providing support to young people at risk.
  • Stonewall is a UK-based organisation which has some good resources available for download from their publications page (Education category), including Challenging homophobic language and Supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual young people.
  • We Give a Damn is a US-based site that has some excellent resource material for people advocating attitudinal change.
  • Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner publishes a series of brochures on discrimination issues, including ones dealing with Gender and Sexual Orientation and explains the process of making a complaint of discrimination.
  • Tasmania Police have a number of LGBTI Liaison Officers, whose mission is to contribute to the creation of mutual trust between police and the LGBTI community. The Liaison Officers can be contacted on 6230 2111.
  • Tasmania's Sexual Health Service - operated by the Department of Health and Human Services - is staffed by doctors, nurses, counsellors and educators. It provides free and confidential clinical, counselling and educational services in Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie.
  • Outright Youth, which is run for youth by youth, is a key component of the Coming Out Proud Program and provides speakers and mentors to educational institutions.
  • SPECTRUM organises informal social meetings of GLBTI people - individual events may be for men only, women only, or both men and women.

Positive Ageing

Discrimination and harassment of GLBTI people in schools has been recognised for many years, resulting in the development and implementation of programs to bring about cultural change in the education system and to support individual GLBTI people involved in the system, either as clients or providers. Only in recent years, however, has any attention been given to the problems facing ageing GLBTI people. Academic research1,2 suggests that the issues facing them continue to be widely ignored and that there is an urgent need to attend to shortcomings in a wide range of areas, including public policy, gerontology research, aged care education programs, service provision interventions and legal representation. COPP seeks to contribute to breaking the silence on these issues, by advocating both cultural change in aged care services and support for individual GLBTI people in the system, either as clients or providers.

1 Johnson, M.J., Jackson, N.C., Arnette, J.K., & Koffman, S.D. (2005): Gay and Lesbian Perceptions of Discrimination in Retirement Care Facilities, Journal of Homosexuality, 49:2, 83-102.

2 Hughes, M. (2009): Lesbian and Gay People's Concerns about Ageing and Accessing Services, Australian Social Work, 62:2, 186-201.

An outstanding coverage of the issues faced by ageing GLBTI people is contained in a 2006 issue of the Gay & Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review (Vol. 2, No. 2), which is published by the Australian Psychological Society. We encourage anyone interested in contributing to progress on this front to contact the chair of their local Community Liaison Committee.

Statistics on Self-Harm

Statistics on suicide

First, it is unlikely that all suicides are recognised in the mortality statistics. The process of recording and coding deaths is set out in a paper available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. A death is investigated by the police and the Coroner only if it is identified as 'reportable', and counted by the ABS as suicide only if that is recorded in the National Coroners Information System as the deceased person's intent. It is quite possible that the intent in a case of a suicide may be wrongly identified as accidental or unspecified.

The ABS reported that there were 2,101 suicides in Australia in 2005, and identified that the total number of suicides had declined by 14% since 2001 (refer to the link provided above). The same trend is also identified in a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare for 2004. The AIHW report also identified that the incidence of suicide:

  • for males was almost 4 times that for females;
  • in Tasmania was 1.6 times that for Australia as a whole; and
  • increased dramatically with the remoteness of the deceased person's zone of residence in Very Remote areas was 2.3 times greater than for Major Cities.

Currently no attempt is made to record the reason for a deceased person's decision to suicide. There is clear anecdotal evidence, however, that harassment and discrimination by others and failure to come to terms with one's own sexuality and/or gender are significant factors in the suicides of many GLBTI people.

There is, however, abundant research evidence that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are at higher risk of mental disorder, suicidal ideation, substance misuse, and deliberate self-harm than heterosexual people. A systematic review of research reports by King et al. in 2008 established, on the basis of 25 high-quality studies, elevated rates of risk relative to heterosexual people:

  • Lifetime risk of suicide attempts:
    2.47 (CI 1.87, 3.28)
  • Depression and anxiety:
    At least 1.5 times higher (Studies ranged from 1.54 to 2.58)
  • Dependence on alcohol or other drugs over 12 months:
    At least 1.5 times higher (Studies ranged from 1.51 to 4.00)
  • Alcohol dependence for lesbian and bisexual women:
    4.0 (CI 2.85, 5.61)
  • Drug dependence for lesbian and bisexual women:
    3.5 (CI 1.87, 6.53)
  • Any substance abuse for lesbian and bisexual women:
    3.42 (CI 1.97–5.92)
  • Lifetime prevalence of suicide attempt among gay and bisexual men:
    4.28 (CI 2.32, 7.88)

 

Statistics on the mental health of adult GLBTI people

The best information of which COPP is aware is contained in a 2006 report from the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society, entitled Private Lives - a report on the health and wellbeing of GLBTI Australians. In all, 5476 people between 16 and 92 years of age (mean age 34) completed the on-line survey. The report revealed that among respondents:

  • 50.1% had seen a counsellor psychiatrist in the past five years; in 62.8% of instances for anxiety or depression;
  • 41.2% reported feeling down, depressed or hopeless in the two weeks prior to completing the survey;
  • 24.4% of respondents were assessed as experiencing a Major Depressive Episode at the time of completing the survey; and
  • 15.7% reported suicidal ideation (thoughts) in the two weeks prior to completing the survey.

Statistics on self-harm among same-sex attracted young people

The best information of which COPP is aware is contained in a 2005 report from the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society, entitled Writing Themselves in Again - 6 years on. In all 1,749 young people aged between 14 and 21 successfully completed the survey online, or in hard copy which they received on request by mail. The report revealed that same-sex-attracted young people who had suffered abuse because of their sexuality:

  • were significantly more likely than their heterosexual peers to drink alcohol at least weekly, to smoke tobacco daily, to use marijuana weekly and party drugs monthly, and to have ever used heroin;
  • were twice as likely to self-harm as a consequence of verbal abuse than same-sex-attracted peers who had suffered no abuse; and
  • were three times more likely to self-harm as a consequence of physical abuse than same-sex-attracted peers who had suffered no abuse.