Transcript

Beyond Homophobia

Lynne Hillier
Email: Lynne Hillier

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Transcript

Lynne Hillier:
My first national report with same sex attracted young people was in 1998 and we just completed the third national report in 2010. Most reports are basically a report card of society and of the sexual health and well being of these young people. I suppose if we think of trends we’ve discovered in all of the studies, the three studies plus other qualitative research, that in fact we as a society treat these young people very badly. We abuse them. We give them very few positive role models. We tell them they’re wrong, they’re bad, they’re evil, they’re unnatural, they’re sick, and make it really difficult for them to find positive affirming environments. In 1998, over half had suffered verbal and 14 percent physical assault because of their sexuality. If I think of an overall impression of them they were sore and sorry. They were licking their wounds.
They were cross but they were also a little bit hopeless, didn’t quite know where to go with it. Felt as though socially injustice was happening but had not a lot to work with although there was a bit of resistance happening.

Matt Smith:
So this is 1998. The late 90s. It’s kind of a bit worrying that at that point, it was still an issue and that these people, they had a voice that were being heard but that was still being ignored? Is that the way they look at it?

Lynne Hillier:
Yeah. We call these reports 'writing themselves in' because in fact they didn’t have a voice. And we wanted to write them in to the research. We have pendulums swinging a lot of the place where sexuality is concerned. And I think when we’re doing this research same-sex attracted was regarded as a moral issue. And one of the big message is that we talked out of the first study, it’s not a moral issue. It’s a safety issue and the moral concern is the health and well being of these young people, which we as a society are treating very shabbily.

I was hired in 1998 as a research fellow at ARCSHS to look at how marginalised young people were managing their sexual health and wellbeing. And so, I started with rural young people and then homeless young people. And we asked the question about same sex attraction because just like we ask about gender and age and ethnicity, we felt sexual orientation was really important so it was which of following statements accurately describes your sexual feelings, some attracted to the same sex only, opposite sex only, both sexes or unsure.
And we asked that in a rural study of 1400 young people. We asked is of homeless young people and then it was asked in and is always asked in secondary schools and sexual health studies, which go right through Australia in every state. And so, what we found in that is that we have around about 10 percent who are not attracted to the opposite sex.

Matt Smith:
Is that even across the board is it? In all those groups?

Lynne Hillier:

It’s young women, young men. There are no gender differences there and it’s about 1 in 10. It’s an average and it pretty well covers it. So it’s a lot of young people. It’s a significant minority but what we found with the rural young  people is that there were a lot of really threatening, very negative things being said about these young people, quite hateful things from teachers as well. In the homeless research, it was 14 percent and we thought why they over-represented in this homeless research.
And then in the secondary school studies, these young people were more likely they have an STI, more likely to be using and abusing drugs. We just felt there’s something going on here. They need to be our next group of marginalized young people, we need to see how they going. It was really tricky. How do you find young people or research population that is stigmatized and in a way is hiding for its own safety and had to use a researcher ethically to research with this group, do no harm.
So we decided and this was quite new at the time, we decided the internet would give them as many choices as possible. They could do it in private. We could gather qualitative and quantitative research. We got them to tell us about their lives and we didn’t know how many we would find and how many would fill it out but we had 749, It was quite amazing.
Matt Smith:
How much did you learn from your survey groups. How diverse was the sexuality out there? You’ve gone from whatever you thought about the groups before you started your survey to now calling same-sex attracted and gender questioning young people.
Lynne Hillier:
same-sex attracted, that was a new term which was created at ARCSHS and it’s really applicable to young people. If you think of the various aspects of sexuality, there’s attraction, there’s identity and there’s behaviour.
Identity is something that people choose to call themselves and it’s something that comes later usually. Sexual feelings is something that come very early. Ten percent of these young people said they always knew and two thirds of them knew before they left primary school. We also felt that with same-sex attracted, we’re not talking about an identity, we’re just talking about a feeling and young people will relate to that. Gender questioning came up because in the first one we just asked about, “Are you a male or female?”
And then it became really obvious that some young people weren’t happy with that. And in the second one in 2004, we asked about transgender F to M, transgender M to F. We had nine young people. When we got to the third study in 2010, it was quite clear that that wasn’t enough either that there were young people who didn’t think of themselves as transgender but also didn’t think of themselves as male or female. So we added gender queer and other.
And in the third one, we had 3,134 young people but we had 91 who did not tick male or female and they're a real challenge. We call them gender questioning because they don’t all think of themselves as trans but because they questioned their gender but they’ve also questioned the idea that there are two genders, that doesn’t suit them. And that’s a huge challenge to a researcher.
Matt Smith:
So I assume a big problem with these young people in schools is not only are they trying to figure things out for themselves but everybody else at the same time is trying to figure them out, probably not being as accepting and that situation mightn’t have changed. Is that where a lot of your works focusing on now, maybe educating a wider audience?
Lynne Hillier:
ARCSHS has a commitment to respecting research populations enough that if they spend their time to give us the data we will use that data for change where it is needed.
So we take the data and we go to education departments. We go to the media. We go to wherever. We take it back to workers with young people so that it’s sort of a capillary action in a way. You know, you say to the workers, OK, here’s the data. Do what you feel is right with it. This is a tool for you.”
So from 1998 to 2004, there was a huge change. In 1998 quite clearly for these young people, they were dealing once they realized they were same sex attracted all of a sudden all of the things that that meant in terms of their culture’s way of understanding sexuality landed on top of them. Does that mean I’m evil? Does that mean God hates me. Does that mean I’m mentally ill? Does that mean I’m abnormal? Am I never going to have children? So much coding, that’s negative, that’s attached to gay and lesbian same-sex attracted.
So they’re dealing with that. This big piece of information about themselves that they have a choice to keep to themselves so they can never really talk openly about themselves or they let people know about it and for many of them, it creates a terrible situation for them in their families and at school. So we found that 80 percent of the abuse in 2010 happened at school, 74 percent in 2004, 69 percent in 1998. School is particularly a tricky place for them.
Matt Smith:
How young are people that are struggling with these problems? Is it a challenge to really connect and communicate with these younger people who are having these problems and maybe help them understand what they’re going through?
Lynne Hillier:
Someone said to me once, “The best thing we can do for these young people who feel they’re different and alone is to put them in touch with another young person.“ and I agree. Certainly, I’ve noticed that in the beginning, young people would be inspired by adults and now they’re being inspired by each other. Putting all of those negative connotations on these young people’s lives and providing only negative ways of understanding themselves is being a horrible thing that we’ve done to young people and homophobic abuse erodes community. These young people can’t even tell their parents often.
Mostly, they’re parents are heterosexuals and expect them to be heterosexual like they’re in a really tricky situation. But things have changed in the culture, we now have really strong role models. There’s a lot more happening for them then and then there’s loads of stuff in terms of support groups. They’ve have sprung up especially around Victoria but in other places too. And there’s the internet. In the research we know that they don’t get the information they need to have safe sexual lives. They are incredible at healing themselves, inspiring each other, transforming their lives, and they certainly inspire me. And so, I suppose I see things happening top down, where adults are doing stuff for them but I also see that they are making huge headway.
I’ve seen activism in these young people, which just amazes me. There were two or three young people who were being severely bullied at school, two boys who couldn’t go to toilet all day, ever. They had to go to the public toilets or not at all. One of them had his hair set on fire because he way gay. Not going to play sport to go to the change room, all of this is to do with them being physically safe and they went to the school principal and complained and had a bit of a hearing but not much was done.
And then, they were promised that homophobia would be putting the code of conduct and it was forgotten conveniently. So that was it for one of them. She went to all student took up a petition. It was a senior school. I think all but about three signed it and took it up to the principal who publicly apologized at the school assembly and said 'we have this now but I want you to assume and to know that this will be in it for next year and that it is in it for this year.'
So there are lot of these examples so I think now of young people standing up and refusing to take the abuse. Whereas in 1998, there was hardly a squeak.
Matt Smith:
You said earlier, from the top down is the way that’s been working traditionally. Have you been able to get any response from the top with your reports?
Lynne Hillier:
Yeah, it was very interesting. In 1998, with the first one we put our press release and the press release was all about this is not a moral issue, this is a safety issue. We’re doing these young people a disservice. And the media took it up. We would have articles in the newspaper and we would say report the research and the education department would say we’re not sure about the stats. So we started from a very low point in communication. By the second one, we had 1,749 young people in that, so over the double. We went to government and we say we had this research, do you want to know about it? And we had pre-launch briefings with several government departments. So that they would then ready, they could plan what might happen. They used to research. We had a whole of government run table after that to work at strategies, many of which is being implemented especially in schools.
In Victoria, we have had a terrific relationship with government where we all want social justice for young people and we want all young people to have an opportunity to an education in a safe environment but we now have a policy called “Supporting Sexual Diversity in Schools" where schools are shown leadership that was the problem, we felt, by the time we got to the second report when you have homophobia which is so entrenched in a culture and everyone who could make a difference is too frightened to in case it has a backlash on them. We need departments, we need government to show leadership. We need teachers to know that they’ll be supported if they address this and not that they’ll be left out to dry when parents complain or whatever.
Matt Smith:
So you have seen the difference then.
Lynne Hillier:
Absolutely I guess it takes a lot to make change. There are a lot of necessary conditions. And I think in our culture, amazing things have happened like the changes in law or in the partnership bills and the whole range of things and media and visibility that I mentioned before, and alongside that the research has been able to do its base work and people have used it. It’s been a tool for them. So we would have youth workers or teachers who would say to principals we need to do something here and principals would say, “No gay students in our school.“ So until we had the stats to say well actually all of this Australian research shows that you do and maybe it’s 1 in 10 and this is happening with them. People could take it and it was credible and had to be believed.
Matt Smith:
So what’s the next step of your research?
Lynne Hillier:
We were shocked to see that 80 percent of the abuse of young people is happening in schools when so much work had been done in schools. And so, quite clearly work in schools needs to continue. So we were asked to do a position paper for the new of Department of Education on same-sex attracted young people in New South Wales and what can be done in schools. So moving to other the states and hoping that the research can be used for change there. I’m making sure that the good changes that have happened in Victoria consolidated with the new government.
I think because now we have this group of young people who are so strong. Like in 1998, 1 in 749 said that she was going to have a child, the others thought because they were gay they couldn’t have children. They couldn’t have family and that they were going to be lonely such a strong belief that was imposed on them. By 2004, most of them were saying they were going to have children. One of them said, “My girlfriend and I are going to have child with the help of my best friend, Sam’s sperm." By 2010, there were going to get married as well regardless I will have marriage and I will have children. And I will have my partner. Such a different voice coming from these young people. I mean they are a force to be reckoned with. In a lot of ways I feel quite positive about the future although I see that 80 percent of the abuse is still happening in school and that there are last bastions of resistance.
Over 2000 young people have been verbally abused and we asked them what was said to them and the things that were said to them were foul and disgusting and you wouldn’t say them to anyone. But what was interesting is that there was nothing new. They were the same old beliefs that came out of psychiatry, psychology, the law, the church and most of those organizations and certainly parts of the church have recanted and said 'we were wrong'.
The beliefs still hang about and are used to abuse and the battle still goes on. And I think that 80 percent in school is probably just representative of social change and the struggle that happens because we received hate mail, people are very anxious about these beautiful, totally normal smart resilient young people.
Matt Smith:
That’s all the time we’ve for the La Trobe University podcast today. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback about this podcast or any other, you can send us an email at podcast@latrobe.edu.au. Dr. Lynne Hillier, thank you for your time today.
Lynne Hillier:
Thanks very much, Matt.

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