On 17th May, 1990, the World Health Organisation finally removed homosexuality from their Classification of Diseases, eliminating just one of the many discriminatory barriers that the queer community faced, and continues to face.
Now, some thirty years later, May 17th is commemorated as the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia & Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) and is used to both celebrate LGBTQIA people across the world, while also raising awareness for the barriers that we have yet to overcome in our pursuit of an equal society.
Normally, people celebrate IDAHOBIT by going out, chilling with their friends, and showing their pride on their sleeves (or their faces). But since we're all home-bound this year, Minus18, a charity that champions LGBTQIA+ youth, has collaborated with Snapchat Australia to bring us a little pride while we all stay inside.
Today, I spoke with Adrian Murdoch, Partnerships Coordinator at Minus18 about the LGBTQIA experience, discrimination, and the Snapchat collaboration.
Nowadays, professional spaces are trying to place a heavier emphasis on asking for and using a person's preferred pronouns, but I understand that some people find it quite awkward to ask. Can you explain the importance of correct pronoun use and perhaps provide some tips on how we can make this exchange a bit less awkward?
Pronouns are a great way to signal that a space is inclusive. We need to be proactive in making correct pronoun use common practice. It signals that anyone is welcome to share their identity if they are comfortable and this organisation recognises that. There are so many simple ways that we can start to embed this in our workplace and culture.
At Minus18, we'll always start our programs by introducing each other and our respective pronouns. Doing this really opens a space for non-binary people. It means that they no longer have to carry the burden of their pronouns.
So doing a pronoun round, wearing pronoun badges, and even including your pronouns in your email signature are all fantastic ways to be inclusive.
We are currently in a period of transition when it comes to pronouns, and mistakes can easily be made when it comes to misgendering others. How do you suggest we apologise for, or address, these behaviours?
Understandably, there's a feeling of guilt when you use the wrong pronouns. So, you need to be aware of this, and when somebody corrects you, know that they're not doing it to shame you. Rather, you should understand that their correction shows that they trust you to get their pronouns correct. They're inviting you to understand a part of them.
Every year during the month of March, we usually see big corporations like Coca-Cola and Gilette putting out commercials about LGBT celebration and pride. Do you think these commercials serve to elevate the LGBTQIA community, or rather do you see them as something that only services corporate interests?
This is a hot topic and becomes particularly important during Pride Month and Mardi Gras, because it is an important issue. I'll admit that I'm a bit of an optimist. I think there is so much value in broadening conversations, so it all comes down to intent and that can be hard to understand. But, what we do understand is that visibility and awareness is great, and normalising conversations is so important.
Let's look at Bonds for example. They're a company that Minus18 has worked with in the past for pride projects, and they have a footprint across stores like Myers, Best & Less, and Woolworths. Their huge presence and the conversation that follows from their products produces a positive influence.
Their intent and the questions they asked us regarding celebrating pride authentically was amazing. There are a lot of parents and young people who would see their products and become aware that our service exists, which can serve to demystify the LGBTQIA community. Bonds allowed us to be put into the mainstream, though admittedly this is just one success story.
When it comes to the larger corporations, such as Coca-Cola, they have thousands and thousands of employees and likely have a pride group within that organisation. They are real people who may be queer themselves or are parents to queer youth. People want to see where they work capture their identity. So, there is this internal element that we don't often see or can't relate to but it does exist and these people are the driving force behind the LGBTQIA celebrations at these companies.
In a similar way, UNSW has marched with Mardi Gras for the past couple of years. That presence signals to students that UNSW values being part of that community and being visible. It can definitely be a trade-off but if the intention is good, and the intention is to work with the community then that's when this brand use can serve a positive purpose.
On that same line of thinking, where do you draw the line between being a true ally of the LGBTQIA community, and virtue signalling?
I think virtue signalling is involved with this idea of intent. If the intent is to sell rainbow merch with no attachment to the queer community, then that is virtue signalling. This is why there is a lot of criticism from the community.
Though this can become quite tricky. Some organisations have pride ranges where they receive consultation from the LGBTQIA community but they may not necessarily want to broadcast that.
But there are definitely corporations that sell merchandise purely to capitalise on the fact that it may be Mardi Gras weekend. There might be a big rainbow decal on the window, but then you'll go in and there isn't actually a connection to the community. That is textbook virtual signalling.
Often a lot of stories regarding youth LGBTQIA discrimination involve religious parents and queer children, which means that religion and the LGBTQIA community are often pitted against each other - you have a few stories on the Minus18 page that showcase this. Do you believe that religion is inherently opposed to the LGBTQIA community?
I don’t think they're inherently different, but I do think that the religious and the LGBTQIA community have different values and different ways of experiencing life.
If we look at the postal survey in Australia, there was a sizeable amount of the population that voted 'no'. They might have voted 'no' because of the way they grew up, and the values they were taught back then. I think that's completely understandable and I have so much respect for anyone religious who takes the time to explain what religion means to them.
But for the LGBTQIA community, we want a balance of rights and fairness, so when our human rights are infringed upon there has to be a way to navigate these complex interactions between religion and LGBTQIA equality. I think we really saw this in the Religious Freedoms Bill and the way it inadvertently discriminated against young LGBTQIA people.
In regards to religion being an opposing force, there are circumstances where religious and LGBTQIA communities are boiled down to direct opposition. But it runs a lot deeper than that, and both sides are done a disservice when their dichotomy is reduce to a black and white.
How then can we reconcile the perceived differences between religion and the LGBTQIA community perhaps in relation to a religious parent and a queer child?
At Minus18, we're all about peer support and connection to community. So for us it is about introducing the young person to others in the community who might have that shared experience.
It is these people who can help them understand that ultimately their parents love them but have probably spent the last 30-40 years holding conservative, religious values very dear.
But, there's an understanding and change that the parent has to take as well. At Minus18, we first and foremost support the young person. But for parents, we take a similar stance in that we don't want to change anyone's values, rather, we would love to share stories and perspectives that are similar to theirs.
We're actually about to release a video series about the parents of LGBTQIA people. We've found that parents also go on a journey where mistakes might be made, but we want them to know that these mistakes are okay. This series aims to demystify the idea that there is a perfect way to approach your child's coming out journey, instead, it shows that there are ways to balance your own values and your ability to support and love the person you brought into this world.
LGBTQIA youth are twice as likely to suffer from mental health illnesses than the general population in Australia. However, mental health services can be very expensive and inaccessible to younger populations. What is some advice that you can provide for queer youth who might need mental health services, and what are some ways your organisation can help with that?
Firstly, Minus18 is an indirect support service. So, we're not a mental health organisation but mental health is so fundamental to what we do. Our main philosophy is about building a community and providing peer support. Every event that we have, there will be youth workers that will provide referrals to other services. They aim to help people who are having trouble at home, struggling with homelessness, and need help in other facets of life.
We also work with other direct services across Australia. So an example of this is our long term relationship with Twenty10 which is a fantastic organisation that supports the LGBTQIA community in regards to homelessness. Their workers volunteer their time at our events, and even know a lot of the people that come to our events, through this relationship, the Twenty10 workers can connect LGBTQIA youth to the right services they need at whatever stage they are at on their journey.
It can be quite hard for young people to take that first step in getting the help they might need, so how can you encourage these young people to ask for help? What are some ways you make yourselves accessible?
We are so grateful that we live in a time where the internet exists. I think a lot of young queer people are allowed to explore their identities through the internet because everything is right at their fingertips. Minus18 is so active digitally because of this and in so many different formats.
We have a private Facebook group called 'Minus18 Teens' which is specifically for queer young people aged 12-19 who attend our events. But we also work hard to include young people that live regionally or in a city where we might not do an event. The internet has allowed us to create a space for people to read and think about other's journeys and connect in through this online area and it acts as a great starting point.
For us, this is facilitated through our amazing volunteer crew who respond to and support others. They are the ones who help others feel less isolated.
And while this might not necessarily be true of every case, I think these interactions can be a strong preventative measure against social isolation and mental health issues.
It's really interesting that you're thinking about the queer youth in regional Australia who definitely don't have access to the same support structures as those in the city.
Yeah, we've actually been running a program called 'Queer Out Here'. Basically, our team have been delivering these free workshops that focus on queer youth empowerment, so it might involve a pride group that runs with ten members from a 100km radius and investigates what tools they can use to support each other.
The most important thing about these workshops is the feedback we receive, since this is what allows us to understand what regional queer youth need. From here, we can take information back to their local councils and state government to show the demand. A lot of the time the government data collection such as the census don't capture LGBTQIA identities, so we use our feedback to say "there are queer people in your area, these are their experiences, and this is what they want."
Most excitingly, we are taking this all around Australia so we can directly engage with young people, empower them, listen, but also take their narratives and turn that into an evaluation where we can bring their perspectives to people in power.
Minus18 recently collaborated with Snap Inc. Australia to design a workshop where young, queer creators could design Snapchat filters. What is the purpose of this workshop and these filters, and how does it serve to modernise LGBTQIA activism?
Snapchat and Minus18 came together with our volunteer group and ran them through this lens workshop that uses augmented reality. You could make your own filter and have rainbows that pop up or a lens on your face that could give you little pride tattoos.
The power of this lies in the fact that we know filters are a tool that young people use and love. And with Snapchat there's so much configurability about who and what you share with your close friends and family, which is really important to queer young people. We wanted to ensure that people could share the content with those they were out with or comfortable with, and again it helps those in regional towns connect with other like-minded people.
Empowering these young people to celebrate their identity for IDAHOBIT was really special and if there is a way for them to choose the way they celebrate, it's awesome and it was awesome to see it come together.
Young people are so engaged digitally, so if people can get involved with activism by using an app that all their friends use, that's fantastic.
How has social distancing affected activism, and how can technology such as these lenses help during this complicated time?
During this current climate, activism on traditional days such as IDAHOBIT has almost felt like it shouldn't take centre stage, there's just so much chaos right now. It almost felt like we shouldn't be campaigning given that there were much more important priorities at that point in time.
But after a few weeks, we started to realise that we needed our work more than ever. People need to be safe and measures like social distancing were immediate measures to respond, but we provide a sense of normality by reminding them of other things that were important to them outside of coronavirus.
So, as soon as we realised this, we were more motivated than ever to ensure that we were doing everything we could to connect young people to community, to feel involved, and to celebrate their identity. Nothing changes in their experience in that sense, so making these lenses with Snapchat gives them a chance to celebrate their identities and engage with others a variety of different communities in places ranging from the UK, the US, regional Australia, and more.
Finally, how can we access these lenses?
Well firstly, you've got to have Snapchat, that's a bit of a precursor. Once you're in the Snapchat viewfinder, look at the filter button next to the main photo button. Click on that and when you search IDAHOBIT, all the lenses will come up. They also come up under pride and Minus18. They're all so good and different, but no matter which one you choose, it'll be super cute.
To find out more about Minus18 and the amazing work they do, feel free to visit their website at https://www.minus18.org.au/ and don't forget to show your pride this weekend!