By Martina McGrath.
Rebels, misfits, outsiders, troublemakers and agitators have a lot to answer for. People with a lived experience of ‘difference’ throughout history have always been the movers and shakers of significant and often times transformative social change. In Australia, one recent example of this came when Australia voted for marriage equality in 2017. But, there’s always more work to do. This is particularly true for LGBTQIA+ people and how we can achieve equitable outcomes in relation to health and wellbeing on par with non-LGBTQIA+ Australians.
It’s true that LGBTQIA+ people in many parts of the world enjoy most (but never all) of same liberties and freedoms as our non-LGBTQIA+ counterparts. But, in 2021, the world is still very Tilted (and not in a Christine and The Queens funky kinda way)! Enter the 2021 Australia’s largest population survey, the Census.
The Australian Census is conducted every five years. Despite recommendations from health care experts and leading organisations in the field of LGBTQIA+ health, the 2021 Australian Census has chosen to continue to exclude important questions relating to sexual orientation, gender diversity and variations in sex characteristics from this year’s Census of the Australian population.
LGBTQI+ Health Australia helped lead advocacy work in a bid to ensuring LGBTQIA+ people be counted in the Census. It has been great to see earlier this year that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has updated the Australian Standard for Sex, Gender, Variations of Sex Characteristics and Sexual Orientation Variables. Without doubt, this much needed overdue change will go a long way to improving (including in research) more comprehensive data collection opportunities. But, the chance to be fully seen and counted in largest population survey, the Australian Census, for 2021 has passed us by!
One wonders how we will ever get to a point where high quality, appropriate services can be funded and delivered to support the health equity outcomes for LGBTQIA+ people in Australia. Data collected across a range of sources, including in population health and from the research sector shows that LGBTQIA+ people experience higher rates of emotional distress, suicidal thoughts and attempts and are more at risk to emotional distress relating to mental health and suicide than people from non-LGBTQIA+ communities. It’s perhaps important to note, one of the reasons why it’s important to accurately collect data about LGBTQIA+ people is so that we can better understand which sub-groups within the broader ‘LGBTQIA+ ‘umbrella are more at risk than others and therefore prioritise funding of new programs and service for these people. There is also on ongoing risk associated with conflating data and identified needs by grouping all LGBTQIA+ people under the one LGBTQIA+ giant rainbow-coloured banner. This is highlighted when looking at suicide attempts by sexual orientation in La Trobe University’s Private Lives 3 study  which collected data from over than 6,800 LGBTQIA+ people living in Australia.
This year’s Census presented an opportunity to at least start working towards ensuring all public health policies and subsequent funding allocation for services are appropriately targetted to respond to the health and emotional wellbeing needs of all LGBTQIA+ people.
As disappointment subsides there still so more advocacy work to be done by LGBTQIA+ activists, advocates, our allies, including from our leading LGBTQIA+ health, human rights and social justice focussed organisations. It’s great to see that this advocacy work is already underway. Equality Australia in l partnership with other leading LGBTQIA+ organisations have wasted no time in launching this great campaign as a direct response the 2021 Census (by Equality Australia’s Count Us In campaign).
This year’s themes for World Suicide Prevention Day 2021 is hope in action. It’s time to look forward to a time when all Australians, LGBTQIA+ included, are counted equally in the next Australian Census in 2026. Beyond Australia, I also hope that between this year’s Census and the next one in 2026 we continue to make many urgently needed advances in research, policy and service delivery for LGBTQIA+ people so that we too can dream freely, reach our fullest potential and enjoy good mental and emotional wellbeing in every country and community where we live, work and play in the world.
Next month at IASP’s World Congress a new LGBTQIA+ Special Interest Group (SIG) will be launched. There’s so much more we need to do to address the suicide-related statistics and social disadvantage for LGBTQIA+ people. As a lived experience qualitative researcher, I know the power of words and storytelling. But, I have a growing appreciation for the powerful stories that timely, accurate and comprehensive data can tell us. The new LGBTQIA+ SIG will provide an opportunity for researchers, advocates and anyone passionate about advancing knowledge about what we need to do differently whille influencing to improve the social and health outcomes of LGBTQIA+ people, in every country right across the world.
If you’re feeling unconvinced or perhaps, like me, a little bit activist battle weary and wondering if we should even dare dream that by the time the next Australian Census is conducted in 2026 LGBTQIA+ people will be counted in, here’s a little YouTube inspiration to remind you that dreams really do come true… The moment Parliament said yes to same-sex marriage.
Australian support services:
Should reading this post raise any strong emotions for you and you’d like to speak with someone, here are some Australian national helplines and websites:
- Q Life: 1800 184 527 | qlife.org.au
- Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800 | kidshelpline.com.au
- Lifeline: 13 11 14 | lifeline.org.au
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 | suicidecallbackservice.org.au
- Beyond Blue: 1300 24 636 | beyondblue.org.au
- Headspace: 1800 650 890 | headspace.org.au
- Everymind: https://everymind.org.au/need-help
- Hill, A. O., Bourne, A., McNair, R., Carman, M., & Lyons, A. (2020). Private-Lives-3: LGBTQIA Report. H. a. S. Australian Research Centre in Sex, La Trobe University. https://www.latrobe.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/1185885/Private-Lives-3.pdf