Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning, asexual (LGBTIQA+)*, and other Australians of diverse sexuality and gender, live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives (1).
However, evidence (1,2) shows that a disproportionate number of LGBTIQA+ people experience:
- mental health challenges, suicidal thoughts and attempts;
harassment and abuse;
- challenges with alcohol and drug use; and
- intimate partner and family violence.
Challenges faced by LGBTIQA+ people, along with feelings of shame, fear and confusion, are not because of their sexuality or gender identity. Rather, they are driven by the fear of, or actual, discrimination.
We may often feel pressured to fit in with society's conventional ideas of sexuality and being male or female. Those who don't fit those expectations may face discrimination, harassment and abuse due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and bodily variations in sex characteristics.
Biological, social, environmental and psychological factors can contribute to mental health issues and conditions such as anxiety, depression and suicide. Discrimination is an additional risk factor that LGBTIQA+ people may face which increases the risk of experiencing poor mental health.(3)
LGBTIQA+ people in Australia still experience discrimination, harassment and hostility in many parts of everyday life; in public, at work and in educational institutions. Accessing basic services, such as health services, as well as securing proper recognition of their sex in official documents, are just some of the challenges LGBTIQA+ people are facing. Many LGBTIQA+ people still feel the need to hide their sexual orientation at work, when accessing services, or when attending events.(1,2)
Some types of discrimination are obvious, but others are more subtle.(4) Obvious types of discrimination include:
- targeted attacks, bullying, intimidation,harassment or physical threats;
- teasing someone about their gender, sexual preferences or partner (e.g. use of the word 'gay' as a derogatory term);
- excluding someone because of their sexuality or gender identity;
- asking inappropriate or overly personal questions; and
- conversion therapies.
Subtle types of discrimination include:
- not being allowed to use a bathroom that corresponds with your gender identity;
- someone using the wrong gender or name to refer to you, after you’ve explained your preferred name and pronouns; and
- family or friends refusing to acknowledge your same-gender partner as your romantic partner and instead referring to them as your ‘friend’.
There is a history of political discrimination towards LGBTIQA+ people in Australia. In 1975 the first Australian state decriminalised homosexuality, but it wasn’t until 22 years later in 1997 that the decriminalisation of homosexuality was achieved in all Australian states and territories.(5) Twenty years later same-sex marriage was legalised in Australia in 2017.
The continuing experience of discrimination, social exclusion, harassment and violence, as well as the subsequent trauma from these experiences, continues to drive the health disparities experienced by LGBTIQA+ people today.
The 2020 snapshot found that compared to the general population, LGBTIQA+ people are twice as likely to be diagnosed and treated for mental health conditions than the general population.(6) Alarmingly, LGBTIQA+ young people aged 16 to 27 are 5 to 11 times more likely to have attempted suicide, with almost 50 percent of transgender people aged 14 to 25 surveyed already having attempted suicide.(6) These statistics are likely to be an underestimation; LGBTIQA+ people who die by suicide prior to ‘coming out’ would not be included in these statistics; their deaths would be included in the ‘general’ population.
Although it is improving, historically LGBTQIA+ communities see little of their culture reflected in visual, literary, or performing arts and this lack of visibility makes it harder for individuals to understand and develop their own identity and how they fit in in the world.
In the LGBTIQA+ community, discrimination is multi-layered and complex when identities intersect. These intersections may be through our age, gender, race, disability or other attributes.(7) For example, where an LGBTQIA+ person also has a disability, lives with a mental health issue or condition, is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, lives in a regional or rural area or belongs to a culturally and linguistically diverse background. Intersectionality is often overlooked in LGBTIQA+ communities, which can cause further disadvantage and discrimination.
There are many actions that LGBTIQA+ and other diverse sexuality and gender Australians can do to support and maintain their mental health and wellbeing.
Visit ways to look after your mental health or try the following:
- Know you’re not alone: there’s a diverse LGBTIQA+ community out there. Read an LGBTIQA+ book, or watch an LGBTIQA+ film (such as Schitts Creek, Priscilla Queen of the Desert or Disclosure on streaming services) to learn more about queer culture. You may want to check out Insta profiles or news stories of some of our many Australian role models such as Magda Szubanski, Ruby Rose, Ian Thorpe, Benjamin Law, and Troye Sivan - just to name a few!
- Stay connected: catch up with family or friends who you know are supportive who you may have lost touch with. Make the first move; don’t wait for others to get in touch with you. If they live far away, try calling, emailing, or sending a text message.
- Practice self-care: remember to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep and avoid or reduce alcohol and other drug use.
- Take action: find and join activities where you can meet other people with the same interests - this may include starting a new hobby, joining a club or volunteering.
- Seek help: call a support line or seek out an online queer space. If you are concerned about discrimination, services like QLife provide peer support from someone else who is LGBTIQA+. Getting help early does make a difference. Check out our Useful Links page for support services that help people from the LGBTIQA+ community.
It can be challenging constantly trying to affirm and assert your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It can be a confusing and isolating process – but, the good news is, no one has to do it alone. There’s a diverse LGBTIQA+ community and allies out there ready to support you.
Coming out is a very unique and individual journey. It is important to realise there is no one 'right' way to come out. You have the freedom to come out when you are ready and in a way that is authentic for you.
Coming out is the first step in your journey living as an openly LGBTIQA+ person. This is a journey you haven’t been on before so you may make some mistakes. That is okay, everyone does. It can be helpful to have a few trusted friends who will be there for you and support you when need it.
Some people may not respond well to your news. It is important to remember that just as it has taken you time to be comfortable acknowledging your sexual identity so some other people will take time to accept your coming out. It is helpful to realise they need their own time and this is nothing to do with you.
For more information, see Coming Out on the Freedom Centre website.
‘Ally’ is not a label you can give yourself, it is something you have to continually work towards. Being a good ally isn’t difficult, but it does take some work. Being an ally doesn’t mean you have to get it right 100% of the time, but it does mean you may need to stop, apologise, listen or educate yourself to support those around you.
Here is a list of actions you can take to start your journey to being a good ally:(8),(9)
- Use people’s correct name and pronouns: respect each person’s pronoun and encourage others to do so. If you make a mistake, correct yourself and move on.
- Don’t tolerate disrespect: call out any hurtful language, remarks or jokes that are inappropriate. Seek out other allies who will support you in this effort.
- Educate yourself and others: do your own research to better understand and correct misinformation that you hear.
- Don’t make assumptions: even if you have LGBTIQA+ friends already, it’s important to know that every person’s sexuality, gender identity and gender expression may be different. Rather than make assumptions, ask if you are unsure, and listen to the answer.
- Don't ‘out’ someone without their permission: consent is key, when you’re telling people about your friend’s sexuality or gender it’s important to respect the privacy of your friend and consider what they may or may not want others to know.
- Don’t ask invasive questions: instead of asking deeply personal questions (e.g. about someone’s genitals, surgical status or sex lives), focus on being someone they would feel comfortable and safe sharing information with.
The most important thing to remember is, if in doubt, just ask!
Check out our Useful Links page for support services for LGBTIQA+ community.
*Throughout this webpage we use the acronym LGBTIQA+ which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer or Questioning, Asexual and the plus stands for other bodily, gender, and sexuality diverse people and communities. We recognise that there are distinct differences across the individual identities and bodily states in these communities and a wide range of diversity.
This article was authored by Danny Della Vedova. Danny is a public health graduate and passionate advocate for the LGBTIQA+ community who started the Regional Rainbows project in Esperance to increase visibility for LGBTIQA+ people living in regional towns.
Last updated: April 2021
Private Lives 3 [Internet]. Melbourne (Australia): The health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ people in Australia 2020. Available from: https://www.latrobe.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/1185885/Private-Lives-3.pdf)
Pride in Diversity [Internet]. Sydney (Australia): Regional Inclusion A How To Guide 2019. Available from: http://www.prideinhealth.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Regional_Inclusion_Guide.pdf
Beyond Blue [Internet]. Melbourne (Australia): Factors affecting LGBTI people. [n.d]. Available from: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/lesbian-gay-bi-trans-and-intersex-lgbti-people/factors-affecting-lgbti-people
Beyond Blue [Internet]. Melbourne (Australia): The impact of discrimination [n.d]. Available from: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/lesbian-gay-bi-trans-and-intersex-lgbti-people/the-impact-of-discrimination
Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA) [Internet]. Parkville (Australia): The collection - history bites [n.d]. Available from: https://alga.org.au/wordpress/the-collection/history-bites
National LGBTI Health Alliance [Internet]. Sydney (Australia): Snapshot of Mental Health 2020. Available from: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/lgbtihealth/pages/549/attachments/original/1595492235/2020-Snapshot_mental_health_%281%29.pdf?1595492235
Equality Network [Internet]. Edinburgh (UK): What is intersectionality? [n.d] Available from: https://www.equality-network.org/our-work/intersectional/
Minus 18 [Internet] Collingwood (Australia): How to be a Trans Ally 2019. Available from: https://www.minus18.org.au/articles/how-to-be-a-trans-ally
TransHub [Internet] Sydney (Australia): Friends as Allies [n.d]. Available from: https://www.transhub.org.au/allies/friends