I spent most of high school in the closet. I had very little in the ways of queer friends or icons to look up to, let alone a queer community. I got a majority of my queer 'education' from Tumblr, while sex ed classes at school were busy teaching 'the girls' how to not get pregant and 'the guys' how to deal with the 'awkward changes' happening to their body.
But even with this representation, and LGBTIQA+ issues being more recognised, there's still a long way to go in terms of improving the health and wellbeing of the queer community, particularly for young people.
A new survey, called Writing Themselves In 4, has been released today by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University, with support from Rainbow Health Victoria and Rainbow Network.
The report is the largest national survey measuring the health and wellbeing of LGBTQA+ young people, including the experiences of over 6000 people aged 14 to 21 across Australia. The survey asked the young people about their experiences with education, homelessness, harassment, assault, mental health, community connections and more.
Among the more troubling stats were that 81 percent of young LGBTQA+ people reporting that they had "high" or "very high" levels of psychological distress, which is markedly higher than the wider population.
60.2 percent reported having felt unsafe or uncomfortable at secondary school due to their sexuality or gender identity, with the same being true for 33.8 percent of TAFE and 29.2 percent of university students. In general, just over 40 percent surveyed reported being verbally harassed in the past year.
A survey of this magnitude is monumental, as it allows policy makers, health care services and the wider community to understand the impacts that queerphobia, social isolation and discrimination have on LGBTQA+ folks. It also shows that just because it's '2021', queerphobia hasn't magically been erased. This is particularly true for trans and gender diverse young people, who across the board experience disproportionately poorer health outcomes.
This is a sentiment shared by lead researcher, La Trobe Associate Professor Adam Bourne, who stated that young queer people still exist in a world where they're at risk of violence.
"Every young person deserves to live free from harassment and exclusion, but as this report and many previous reports make clear, LGBTQA+ young people continue to experience hostility 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."
The report also celebrated the importance of friendship, with a heartwarming 88.3 percent of those surveyed reporting they felt supported by their friends after disclosing their sexuality or gender identity.
65.2 percent said they felt the same about supportive teachers, which although this isn't as high, is still a pretty big deal. There wasn't a single teacher at my high school who spoke openly about queerness, so the fact that safety amongst staff in education is improving is a huge step in the right direction.
The report was called a "vital resource" by Associate Professor Bourne, as it will be used by "those working to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for LGBTQA+ young people throughout Australia".
Reports like this can prove crucial to improving healthcare services and other large-scale changes for queer young people. It's also significant that young people were centred in the study, as opposed to discussions about their wellbeing taking place without their input.
Although many of the stats are dire, they point to the importance of supportive communities, friends and environments for queer folks. They show how allyship, understanding and empathy can make a massive difference.
We still have a long way to go. I hope there will be a time in the future where no queer young person has to feel isolated due to their gender or sexuality. While the queer corners of Tumblr offers a safe haven of sorts, I hope the next generation won't have to rely on them as much as I did.
If you need support, you can call Rainbow Door at 1800 729 367, QLife on 1800 184 527, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.