AUSTRALIAN charity, Minus18, is providing free LGBTQIA+ education workshops for regional and rural schools and community organisations across the country.
Minus18 helps support and empower LGBTQIA+ youth in Australia through events, leadership initiatives and education programs.
Bookings and relationships coordinator at Minus18, Alvi Ahmed, said they are building social inclusion by creating spaces where LGBTQIA+ youth feel supported and empowered.
“We also believe that creating an Australia free from discrimination is a job for everyone, and we can’t do it alone,” said Mr Ahmed.
“For this reason, we also provide inclusion training and digital resources for schools and workplaces all across Australia, to create a world where LGBTQIA+ young people are safe and belong.”
A particular focus of the organisation is increasing accessibility to their education and inclusion workshops for regional and rural areas.
“During Pride Month of 2021 we reached out to our wider community of donors, supporters, well-wishers and friends to make a donation and raise funds for these rural and regional workshops,” Mr Ahmed said.
“As a result, we were able to help fund 41 completely free workshop opportunities to offer anywhere across the country.”
The workshops are delivered digitally, live and with plenty of opportunity for interaction.
“We help introduce teams to LGBTQIA+ identities and lived experiences, understand the discrimination and barriers of the community and suggest practical tools and recommendations to begin one’s allyship journey,” said Mr Ahmed.
“Whether it’s to inspire with the basics, refresh previous learnings or deep dive into new ones, we help guide groups to better understand and help support LGBTQIA+ inclusion within their community.”
Deputy chief executive officer at LGBTIQ+ Health Australia Zed Tintor, says such initiatives are critical, given the limited services available in rural areas.
“There’s certainly greater availability of LGBTIQ young people services in urban areas,” said Mx Tintor.
“So some of the issues that arise as a consequence for LGBTIQ young people [in rural areas] is a greater sense of isolation.”
The 2019 Writing Themselves in Four report by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society found participants in rural areas were more likely to experience feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in their educational setting due to their sexuality or gender identity, compared to those living in cities or suburban areas.
Mx Tintor says without availability of support services, the main support network becomes the family.
“The problem with that too, is that questions around safety come out, which leads into domestic and family violence,” they said.
“So a greater proportion of workshop participants in [non-urban] areas reported experiencing verbal and physical harassment based on their sexuality and gender identity.
“Also in terms of domestic and family violence in regional areas, the lack of appropriate and responsive counselling or legal services available can have an impact.”
The report also found participants in rural areas experienced higher levels of homelessness in the past 12 months, compared to those living in urban areas.
“Physical isolation also makes it difficult to contact friends or neighbours and there’s the fear of encountering discrimination from local services,” said Mx Tintor.
Mx Tintor said the workshops for rural communities are imperative to combat stigma and discrimination.
“We need to engage rural and remote areas, not only to support young people, but to create a sense of cultural safety where a young person feels safe enough to be able to come out, and that they have appropriate support systems in place for them to access when they do come out,” they said.
“And it’s not even necessarily about coming out, but to actually start to create a dialogue with rural and remote communities to engage a greater sense of safety for the young person.”
Minus18 is leading the way to create this dialogue and Mr Ahmed says they are already seeing the positive effects their inclusion workshops have on the community.
“During the creation of our Queer Out Here report, we found that only 24 per cent of LGBTQIA+ youth in rural and regional areas felt it would be safe for them to come out at their school,” he said.
“But during that same Queer Out Here education drive, 98 per cent of teachers reported feeling more confident standing up to bullying or harassment towards an LGBTQIA+ student after attending our Minus18 inclusion training.
“We’re leading change, building social inclusion, and advocating for an Australia where all young people are safe, empowered and surrounded by people that support them.”