Wear it Purple Day, an event on August 31 intended to spread awareness and create a safe community for “rainbow youth”, ended with Flinders Street Station being lit up in a rainbow of colours. However, between this year and next year’s Wear it Purple Day, the fight continues.
Zac Murphy, the Operations Officer at Wear it Purple, states that the organisation is still working on improving the wellbeing of LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) youth, including running a monthly youth-led council to discuss what direction the organisation should go. Examples of discussions include group presence at events such as Midsumma and plans to talk to schools with a bullying issue.
“Every single day we have to keep the diversity momentum going,” Murphy says. “There are still many, many struggles that are had. There’s still lots of bullying in schools, there’s still lots of bullying online, there’s still lots of children that are not accepted after coming out and I think there’s still a lot of navigating to do in finding themselves just as a youth as well as finding themselves as a gender or sexually diverse youth.”
In a 2010 study, over 60% of LGBTI young people in Australia reported receiving verbal homophobic abuse and 18% reported physical abuse. These statistics may have decreased since then, but there have been no Australian studies to confirm or deny this. However, there was a spike in LGBTI youth seeking help from mental health groups and hotlines during the same-sex marriage postal survey.
Family rejection is a key factor behind the fact that LGBTI people are more likely to experience homelessness at a younger age and some fear being discriminated against by homelessness services, resulting in less homeless LGBTI youth seeking these services.
According to Murphy, Wear it Purple works together with families to create a more accepting atmosphere for young people. “It really is all about that education, really is about that awareness, and really is all about the resources, so getting the parent or guardian in touch with the right resource or in touch with the right education or in touch with the right support person [to] broaden their knowledge and open their minds.”
Wear it Purple sometimes connects parents of LGBTI youth with other parents in a similar situation or refers them to a support service where they can talk about their feelings. They also show parents online educational videos about the LGBTI community.
In addition to the fears other LGBTI youth have, university students face discrimination of a different kind. In the National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities, students who identified as gay, lesbian or homosexual reported higher rates of being sexually assaulted, and those identified as bisexual were more likely to have been sexually assaulted than both their straight and gay counterparts.
Ro Allen, the Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality in Victoria, highlights another issue affecting LGBTI youth – religious groups claiming that LGBTI people should be changed despite gay conversion therapy being illegal in Victoria.
“We don’t have camps or anything like that, but [there are] still Bible studies, still things going on, that are saying that LGBTI people are broken in some way and that we should be healed,” Allen says.
Tony Lee, the manager of Brand and Strategic Partnerships at Minus18, an LGBTI youth organisation that runs events every year such as pride formals, attended events throughout the day. The organisation also ran their own events on the day with donations going to Minus18.
“LGBTIQ [Q standing for Queer and/or Questioning] youth just need to know that they are loved and supported and that is the most important thing for young people to really know and understand,” Lee says. “Provided you are giving them safe spaces to express themselves freely and enable that opportunity to feel loved and supported, that is the most important thing.”
Pro-LGBTI youth organisations such as Minus18 have been given pushback from Christian and conservative groups, some using the organisation to argue against Safe Schools, a school program aimed at teaching students about LGBTI issues. Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby Lyle Shelton has claimed that Safe Schools’ connection to Minus18 is pushing an ideology. “This is ideology that encourages children to question their biology and promotes the use of radical and sometimes dangerous body altering techniques such as penis tucking and chest binding,” she says. Minus18’s website has an article on safer ways of chest binding and warns young people not to tuck for more than 4-6 hours at a time. The Victorian Education and Training Website no longer contains links to Minus18 on its page about Safe Schools.
Former Senator Bill O’Chee also voiced concern over the Minus18 website having the potential to be used by child predators, though it is unknown if this has happened.
Wear It Purple Day has also received backlash due to its similar name to Purple Day, which is aimed at raising awareness of epilepsy and takes place every March. According to Murphy, people have been concerned that Wear It Purple is, “taking away from Purple Day.” However, he believes the two should coexist.
He also believes accepting LGBTI youth is important. “Let the kids have the standard struggle of being kids and not have to have the struggle of dealing with their gender or sexual diversity on top of that and just let that be a part of their identity and move on from that and be proud of that. Let them have the normal struggle of being kids.”