Our attitudes as a nation to issues such as refugees, asylum seekers, kids in detention, the homeless and marginaslised, our Indigenous communities and people who identify as LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer) seems to be under constant scrutiny. The media as well as Face Book and Twitter are alive with views one way or another on these issues. Some articles and comments are openly accepting others bordering on or indulging in racism, fear mongering and homophobia.
Last week Triple J’s (ABC youth broadcaster) Current Affairs program, Hack (http://goo.gl/0MWEv Thurs 19 Feb) highlighted the plans of Manchester based LGBT North West (http://goo.gl/0hzYe9 ) to develop a LGBTI focused school. This has come about because of repeated reports from youth who identify as LGBTI being bullied to such an extent that they either want to drop out of mainstream school or worse are contemplating or attempting suicide.
In a longitudinal study Writing Themselves in 3 (http://goo.gl/viBcd2 ) Australian university, LaTrobe researched an increasing number of young people who identified as Same Sex Attracted and Gender Questioning (SSAGQ). This, the last of the reports done in 2010 recognised a significant and largely positive change in the environment for these young people. This is mainly around avenues of support and is largely because the young people themselves have advocated for what they need to feel supported and connected.
LGBT North West in Manchester has discovered that while this might true, disturbingly there has been an increase in homophobic attitude and behaviour. According to a 2005, The Australia Institute Paper (http://goo.gl/9FK6Ld ), the term homophobia was coined by George Weinberg a psychotherapist in 1967. Homophobia refers to the unreasoning fear or hatred of homosexuals and to anti-homosexual beliefs and prejudices. It refers to the belief that heterosexuality is normal and natural and that homosexuality is unnatural, sick or dangerous. This view of homophobia is supported by Christian gay ambassador and activist Anthony Venn Brown (http://goo.gl/3724uI ).
In the Writing Themselves in 3 study 61% of SSAGQ young people reported verbal abuse because of homophobia, 18% physical abuse and 26% some other form of homophobia. Young men and GQ young people reported more abuse than young women. The most common place of abuse (80%) was school.
With these things in mind the question to explore is what avenue is the best way to support our SSAGQ young people to experience purpose, meaning, belonging and connection, 4 pillars that we all need to mediate against suicidal contemplation and action. And whichever way we go, what will be the broader social implications? Is it better to at least in someways isolate SSAGQ young people to achieve the level of support they need? Or as many Hack listeners felt isolate the bullies, give them separate schools? Is there another way that will maintain young people in mainstream education, but help to create an environment of not just tolerance (lets face it, who wants to be tolerated), but acceptance and inclusivity?
Homophobia beliefs and actions have, some perhaps indirectly, attributed to the deaths of many young people and have left countless others permanently scarred as they head into adulthood. This was in part some of the reasons why Australian swimming champion, Ian Thorpe waited so long and chose the UK to come out publicly (http://goo.gl/n4jNZZ ).
What values do we need to embody as individuals and as a society to create a safer more open community so that everyone including SSAGQ young people can flourish?
Relational Thinking may well be a pointer to an effective approach to the inclusion and support of SSAGQ young people. Firstly as individuals and as a society we need to stop seeing people with these orientations as second class citizens. As Venn Brown points out heterosexist attitudes can lead to homophobic behaviour. We need to recognize that these young people have the same human rights as the rest of the community. From here we have a level playing field to introduce the 5 tenants of relational thinking.
How many of us from the heterosexual community have actually had the opportunity to deeply connect with a same sex attracted adult let alone a young person struggling with their sexuality. We tend to either have no sense of what life is like or perhaps worse have formed opinions based on media or religious stereotyping.
Relational thinking encourages us to have direct communication with someone who is SSAGQ, not relying on social media for a quasi relationship. Once we begin a connection, we can share in greater degrees who we are and encourage that openness in the other (multiplexity). As the relationship grows we may well find that we share a common direction and dreams for a society that welcomes the stranger and the outcast. And we may even together enter into the battle for parity not only in interpersonal relationships but over society generally. In case you are wondering the fifth tenant is continuity and refers to shared history overtime, which of course will be established as we travel a combined journey.
Overall, in terms of creating a more inclusive society for SSAGQ young people is the Manchester school idea a good one? It comes across as an emergency solution because of the extreme nature of bullying and the impact it is having on young people. Whilst necessary in the short term, it doesn’t appear to be the ultimate solution. Perhaps a more sustainable approach is to work through how meaningful relationships can be formed between SSAGQ and heterosexual young people as a way of breaking down the silo mentality we all seem to live with. Whilst inherently relational this approach recognizes that we need to work together towards the common good for our society. Again not a simple solution and it will involve careful planning, cross sector involvement, education, as well as careful mainstream and social media campaigns to change attitudes and address homophobia.