Residents across the inner west – and indeed across Australia – have started receiving their postal surveys on marriage equality.
For some, this is a moment of joy, an opportunity to show their support for their friends and family in the LGBTIQ community;
For others, it is deeply embarrassing and shameful: Why should we have a say in something that will not affect us in any way, but will have a profoundly personal impact on the lives of others?
But for members of the LGBTIQ community, opening the letter box is now an unlikely source of anxiety and distress; After all, their very rights are being determined in a hostile and divisive debate, by paper, in the mail.
Let us set aside for the moment the fact that this is an arcane, unnecessary and expensive way to resolve an issue that could have easily and simply been resolved in the national parliament;
Set aside the fact that what is a basic issue of human rights and equality is being determined by a popularity contest;
And set aside the fact that the Prime Minister has chosen the most divisive path possible to achieve marriage equality.
What is clear is that this debate has unleashed vicious homophobia;
It has exposed deep divisions stoked by conservative politicians intent on dragging us back to the 1950’s in yet another culture war;
It is clear we are seeing our worst fears realised when it comes to the free-for-all debate on marriage equality.
My electorate of Summer Hill has one of the highest concentrations of LGBTIQ people, couples, families and organisations in the country.
Suburbs including Lewisham and Marrickville are amongst the suburbs with the highest proportions of LGBTIQ households and I am proud to represent a community that is diverse, supportive and harmonious.
Fantastic organisations including the Gender Centre, the Metropolitan Community Church and Rainbow Families are all based in the Inner West.
And that’s only those who provide dedicated services – many, many others work with and serve the LGBTIQ community through programs designed to promote inclusion and reflect our diversity.
Each of these organisations and each of these communities have been under the pump as a direct result of the postal survey.
Nationally, organisations working in mental health and support have been overwhelmed with calls for help since this postal survey was announced.
ReachOut, Australia’s leading online mental health organisation for young people and their parents, reports a 20% increase in demand for their services around LGBTIQ issues since August.
Former Australian of the Year, Patrick McGorry, has fingered the postal survey as the cause of a sharp spike in demand for mental health services.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that up to a dozen of the leading mental health organisations in Australia have been holding crisis talks to deal with the influx of calls for help from members of the LGBTIQ community, their families and friends.
In the absence of leadership from our Federal Government, we need our State governments to stand up.
The Queensland Palaszczuk Government has committed an additional $338,000 to non-government organisations to extend assistance to the LGBTIQ community in the area of mental health.
The Victorian Andrews Government has committed $500,000 to do the same, supporting organisations like Headspace and Switchboard Victoria.
The McGowan Government in Western Australia has also committed additional funding to LGBTIQ organisations, looking to head off the spike in demand brought about by this postal survey.
But here in NSW, organisations have been left to fend for themselves in the face of surging demand.
The Minister for Mental Health announced $500,000 in additional funding for suicide prevention to ACON in May - a welcome investment in protecting the mental health of LGBTIQ communities.
But that announcement predated the postal survey and its negative impacts.
It is clear that additional funding is needed to help other organisations at the frontline of this debate, and it is up to this Government and the Minister for Mental Health to deliver it now.
I reiterate that LGBTIQ Australians are already at significantly higher risk of suicidality and mental illness.
Data from the National LGBTI Health Alliance shows that:
- LGBTIQ young people aged 16 to 27 are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight people of the same age;
- Transgender and gender diverse young people are 11 times more likely - 35% of those over the age of 18 have attempted suicide in their lifetime.
- LGBTIQ young people are twice as likely to engage in self-injury; and
- 41.1% of LGBTIQ Australians met the criteria for a mental disorder and had symptoms in the last twelve months.
While mental health is complex and can never be attributed to a single cause, it is clear that the systematic oppression and discrimination LGBTIQ people is an important determinant in the state of their mental health.
But what is also clear is that our LGBTIQ brothers and sisters are among the strongest, most resilient and compassionate people I know.
They will survive this and emerge an even stronger community; That is how they will win this.
But let’s not force LGBTIQ people to face this alone:-
- Let’s invest in the mental health services to help them get through this dark period on Australian history.
- And let’s join together and vote Yes –
- YES to recognise the relationships and families of LGBTIQ Australians as equal;
- YES to extend the same rights and dignity to all Australians;
- Let’s VOTE YES for love.