Study: Homophobia and Transphobia Linked to Mental Health Issues for Many 'Growing Up Queer'

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A new study has found that 16% of young people who identify as Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Intersex or Queer (LGBTIQ) have attempted suicide and 33% have harmed themselves as a result of widespread homophobic and transphobic harassment and violence in Australian society.

The Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), with partners the University of Western Sydney and Twenty10, today released the disturbing findings in its research report Growing Up Queer (opens in a new window).

More than 1000 young people aged between 16 – 27 years of age participated in the national study, with almost two-thirds reporting homophobic or transphobic harassment or violence across different aspects of their lives, including in schools, families, the workplace, the streets and other public sites, such as sporting events.

Homophobia and transphobia are terms used to describe bullying, hostility and discrimination against people based on sexuality diversity and gender variance.

The research also found:

  • Homophobia and/or transphobia has a serious impact on many young people’s educational experiences, with some changing schools multiple times and others dropping out of school altogether.
  • Young people frequently witness other students who ‘come out’ at school being bullied and this results in many students keeping their sexual diversity or transgender status a secret, and this has ongoing implications for these young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
  • Sexuality education in schools does not respond to the needs or experiences of young LGBTIQ people, exposing them to a range of social and health risks.
  • Rejection by families can lead to homelessness, economic instability and/or destitution for some young people, particularly in families of different cultural or religious affiliations.
  • Growing up in rural and/or isolated communities exacerbates some young people’s feelings of being alone, with access to support services often limited or non-existent in these areas.
Young and Well CRC CEO, Associate Professor Jane Burns, says the study overwhelmingly highlights the serious impact of homophobia and transphobia, particularly when you consider that 42% of those surveyed had thought about self-harm and/or suicide.

"This research suggests that LGBTIQ young people are around six times more likely to consider taking their own life than their heterosexual peers, reflecting similar findings in other research in this area," she says.

"While there are a small number of fantastic community organisations providing support and guidance to young people identifying as LGBTIQ, such as Twenty10 incorporating the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service NSW, much more needs to be done by way of education and training so that this dire impact on the mental health and wellbeing of these young people can be eliminated.

“Technology has a huge part to play here: the research shows that 85% of young people used the internet to explore their sexual or gender identity, on sites like Minus18, Tumbler, Facebook and YouTube, and 78% of young people felt accepted, 66% felt they could find others like themselves, 60% felt safe and 57% could feel proud of their sexuality in that space."

High profile Australians from the LGBTIQ community, including former High Court Judge the Hon. Michael Kirby, actor Magda Szubanski and comedian Tom Ballard, have lent their support to act on the findings of the report.

"These statistics are shocking and need to be known and acted upon urgently by parents, education and sporting authorities, and churches. They also have serious economic consequences for Australia," says the Hon. Michael Kirby.

Lead researcher Professor Kerry Robinson, from the University of Western Sydney, says the research clearly demonstrates the need for greater community education and more training for educators and health professionals.

"For many people we spoke to, while peers were most frequently the source of homophobia and transphobia, it was the homophobia and transphobia perpetrated by some teachers that had the most profound impact on their lives," she says.

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