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Facing Up To Homophobic,Biphobic And TransphobicVerbal Abuse In Australia

“I normally get something once a year. Walking down the street in Brisbane, my (now) husband and I were shouted at by a couple of blokes who started by saying: ‘you have got to be f@#$ing kidding’ in reference to the fact we were holding hands.”

“I was at my Drs surgery last year & I was abused, & my children were abused, by another patient. My Dr had to drag him away. Some of the names I was called were pervert, deviant, faggot. My kids were called queer, sexually perverted and confused.”

Those are just two of the (literally) hundreds of stories of anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment and abuse shared by respondents to The State of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia Survey at the start of this year.

In all, 1,672 people completed the questionnaire, and the first set of results make for particularly depressing reading:
– 74% of respondents indicated that they had experienced homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal abuse at some point in their life, and
– 48% of those taking the survey reported anti-LGBTIQ harassment in the past 12 months alone.

Given that 2016 witnessed ongoing attacks on the Safe Schools program, bitter political debate about the proposed marriage equality plebiscite, the mass murder at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the tragic death of Indigenous youth Tyrone Unsworth, those figures may not be all that surprising. But they are still shocking – and we should be mad about the amount of prejudice that persists.

Even worse, the impact of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic verbal abuse in the past 12 months has disproportionately affected a few groups:
– 68.2% of trans respondents, and 63.9% of queer respondents, were subject to verbal abuse in the past year (compared to 43.4% of gay people completing the survey)
– 65% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported recent harassment, compared to 47.6% of non-Indigenous respondents, and
– LGBTIQ people aged 24 or under were 50% more likely to report verbal abuse in 2016 compared to people aged 45 to 64.

The following is a fairly typical – and yet no less heartbreaking – story from a respondent who identified as transgender, bisexual and queer:

“Without going into detail, I have been referred to as a tranny, and had both my sexuality and gender identity mocked and invalidated repeatedly. I have been told to kill myself an innumerable amount of times, including being told to ‘get my teeth and gender straight or kill myself’ and that my gender is ‘cancer’. This is just a short list of the abuse I’ve suffered.”

Other common tales of discriminatory comments included people yelling homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse from vehicles: in fact, a total of 78 individual stories, or more than 10% of all comments received, involved anti-LGBTI harassment from bigots in cars.

Although at least one of those stories didn’t end so well for the abuser:

“I was on a date walking with the guy and a guy started yelling at us from his car while he was driving, he lost control of the car and crashed into a sign.”

Leaving that story of karma aside, there was one other especially disappointing aspect of the stories that were reported – and that was the small, but not insignificant, number of incidents where the person engaging in anti-LGBTIQ abuse was another member of the LGBTIQ community. For example, a bisexual survey respondent observed:

“There have been quite a few instances over the years where people have learned my sexuality and gone on a rant on how disgusting it is, and in some instances behaved threateningly while doing so. This comes from both non-LGBT+ and LGBT+ people.”

If we want to eliminate homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia from society generally, then getting rid of it from within our own communities is a necessary step.

But there is plenty that our Governments can and should be doing to fix the problem, too. Currently, only four Australian jurisdictions have legal protections against anti-LGBTI vilification: NSW (although it excludes both bisexual and intersex people), Queensland (which doesn’t cover intersex people either), Tasmania and the ACT.

And, even though debate around the racial vilification protections offered under section 18C has now entered its fourth year, there has been comparatively little discussion about the fact there is no LGBTI equivalent under Commonwealth law.

Unless and until Prime Minister Turnbull takes action to address this gap (and I’m not holding my breath), many of the people who shared their stories of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic verbal harassment and abuse would have few, if any, legal options available to them.

In the meantime, we are going to need to continue to look out for each other, like this respondent:

“I recently saw two young gay men, a couple, who were walking up Chapel Street holding hands. A group of 3 older men were harassing them, following them. I joined the 2 gay men and told them to cross the road and ignore the others. I was then also subjected to the same vitriol with comments such as ‘there’s another one’ and ‘look at the 3 poofters’. We walked into a crowed shop and they didn’t follow us. I was extremely upset by this as were the 2 other younger fellows’.”

Alastair is an LGBTIQ advocate and activist, writing about anti-discrimination, marriage equality and human rights. You can find his blog here.

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