Disproportionate suicide rates for LGBTQI+ young Australians could disappear within five years if discrimination was eliminated, says the Prime Minister's national suicide prevention advisor on the eve of International Day against LGBTQI+ Discrimination.
Stigma and structural discrimination against identifying as LGBTQI+ is incredibly high says Christine Morgan, who has written a report to Scott Morrison that highlights bullying, abuse, violence, systemic adversity and negative social and family attitudes as factors contributing to self-harm.
"It's about the stress points of their living in a society where that is their reality," Ms Morgan says. "They get labelled in a certain way, they get isolated, these impacts lead to a significant increase risk of suicide."
More than 36 per cent of LGBTQI+ identifying people aged 16 or 17 had attempted suicide at some point in their lives according to the latest Australian research from La Trobe University conducted in 2019. That rate is seven times greater than the general population at the same age.
Ms Morgan says there is nothing inherent about being LGBTQI+ that would cause that disparity, rather than the intersection of feelings of isolation and external factors rooted in discrimination.
"My dream is that in five years, we're not talking about LGBTQI+ identified people with a disproportionate risk because we've eliminated the stigma and discrimination," she says
Schools and workplaces host International Day against LGBTQI+ Discrimination (IDAHOBIT) events on May 17 with students and employee encouraged to "wear the rainbow" to show support and end stigma.
The date marks the anniversary of the day in 1990 that homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organisation's International Classification of Diseases.
Legal experts and researchers say there is still much to be done in Australian society to end discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Associate Professor Luke Beck, a constitutional law expert at Monash University pointed to a bill being debated in the NSW parliament that would require schools and teachers to deny the existence of trans people, which he noted was deeply hurtful to trans people and their families.
"Unscientific and discredited gay conversion therapy practices still takes place in Australia and not all states have effective laws against those practices," Dr Beck said.
"Scott Morrison still has not followed through on his promise to change federal law to prevent private schools discriminating against LGBTQI+ kids."
Changing laws is not enough says Professor Paula Gerber from the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law said.
"We need to change attitudes as well," Dr Gerber said. "Allowing LGBTQI people to be vilified, in the name of free speech, will see LGBTQI+ young people continue to suffer significant mental health problems."
It was great that Australia has achieved marriage equality, she said, but after "I do" there is still discrimination to address.
Nominating a few areas to get started, Dr Gerber suggested ensuring children in same-sex families are protected - such as allowing two dads on a child's birth certificate - allowing donor sibling to find and know each other, banning gender normalising surgery on intersex children and raising awareness about the invisible 'B' in the acronym.
The pandemic and lockdowns have made discrimination against LGBTQI+ people worse in some countries cautioned United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
"LGBTQI+ people are often exposed to additional stigma, discrimination and violence, including when seeking medical services - and perhaps saddest of all, within their own families during lock-downs," Ms Bachelet said.
"They are also in some places being treated as scapegoats for the spread of the virus.
"I urge everyone to stand up against hate, and to break the silence surrounding the discrimination and violence suffered by LGBTQI+ people. Let us counter the homophobic, transphobic and biphobic attitudes and narratives that have such a devastating impact on the lives of so many human beings worldwide."
- Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732.
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