Writing Themselves In 4: The health and wellbeing of LGBTQA+ young people in Australia (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society national report, monograph series number 124) by Adam O Hill, Anthony Lyons, Jami Jones, Ivy McGowan, Marina Carman, Matthew Parsons, Jennifer Power and Adam Bourne comments
In 1998, the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University conducted Writing Themselves In, the first ever national survey of same-sex attracted1 young people in Australia. The research highlighted the marginalisation of same-sex attracted young people and identified very high levels of stigma and discrimination. Some of the first specific services and supports for sexually diverse young people in Australia were launched in response to this first iteration of Writing Themselves In. The survey was repeated in 2004 and 2010, and the series was expanded to include a survey targeting trans and gender diverse young people, From Blues to Rainbows, in 2014. Each new iteration of the study provided additional insights into the identities and lives of these young people, as well as further evidence of the importance of services that meet the needs of young people. We hope that this 4th iteration of the survey makes a similarly positive impact on the lives of young people by improving understanding of the diversity of their lived experiences; advancing advocacy; informing government policy for programs and services, and assisting health and community organisations to work effectively; empowering LGBTIQA+ young people; and improving their health and wellbeing.
For that reason, Writing Themselves In 4 should be considered a survey of LGBTQA+ young people only. About the young people who participated
• In total, Writing Themselves In 4 received 6,418 valid responses. This makes the survey the largest ever of LGBTQA+ young people in Australia.
• Writing Themselves In 4 heard from a diverse sample of LGBTQA+ people, including 4.0% of participants who identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, 11.0% who were born overseas, and 39.0% who identified as having disability or a long-term health condition.
• Half (50.6%) of participants were cisgender women, 22.3% cisgender men, 19.5% non-binary, 6.5% trans men, and 1.2% trans women.
• Almost half (45.0%) of participants identified as multi-gender attracted. In total, 33.8% participants identified as bisexual, 16.6% as gay, 12.0% as lesbian, 11.2% as pansexual, 8.4% as queer, 4.6% as asexual, and 13.4% as something else. ...
Disclosure and support from others
• More than nine-tenths (95.5%) of participants had disclosed their sexuality or gender identity to friends, followed by seven-tenths to family (71.9%) or some classmates (70.5%). Less than half of participants had come out to co-workers (43.2%) or teachers (36.0%), and less than a third to sports teammates (28.8%).
• Friends were most likely to be supportive when told about the person’s sexuality or gender identity (88.3%), followed by teachers (65.2%), teammates (63.6%) and co-workers (60.8%); while family (57.3%) and classmates (42.1%) were reported as the least supportive. (However, the number of participants who are out to teachers, teammates and co-workers is very low.)
• Three-fifths (60.6%) of participants attending university who had disclosed their sexuality or gender identity reported feeling supported by their classmates, compared to one-third (35.3%) at secondary school and 43.2% at TAFE.
Educational settings: Supportive structures and practices
• A greater proportion of participants attending university (77.7%) reported being aware of an LGBTIQA+ gender– sexuality alliance, gay–straight alliance, Stand Out group, or similar supportive club for LGBTIQA+ students at their educational institution, compared to participants attending secondary school (24.8%) or TAFE (11.1%).
• In total, 13.7% of secondary school participants in Australia reported that LGBTIQA+ people received a lot of attention or discussion in a supportive or inclusive way as part of their schooling, while one-quarter (27.3%) reported that LGBTIQA+ people were never mentioned in a supportive or inclusive way.
Educational settings: Discriminatory and affirming experiences
• More than three-fifths (60.2%) of participants said that they had felt unsafe or uncomfortable in the past 12 months at secondary school due to their sexuality or gender identity. This compares to approximately three-tenths (29.2%) of participants at university and one-third (33.8%) of participants at TAFE.
• More than three-quarters of trans men (74.3%) and trans women (67.7%) said that they felt unsafe or uncomfortable at their educational institution, followed by two-thirds (65.8%) of non-binary participants, and more than two-fifths of cisgender men (44.2%) and cisgender women (42.2%).
• Almost two-thirds (63.7%) of participants at secondary school reported frequently hearing negative remarks regarding sexuality at their school, compared to one-fifth (20.2%) at TAFE and 15.0% at university in the past 12 months.
• Over one-third of secondary school (38.4%) and TAFE (34.4%) students and one-sixth of university students (17.2%) reported missing day/s at their educational setting in the past 12 months because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
Experiences of affirmation or discrimination in the workplace
• Overall, participants were less likely to report feeling unsafe or uncomfortable due to their sexuality and/or gender identity in the workplace than in educational settings.
• Two-fifths (40.3%) of participants said that they felt unsafe or uncomfortable at full-time work in the past 12 months due to their sexuality or gender identity. This was also true for around one-third of participants who worked part-time (35.6%) and casually (31.0%).
• One-tenth (10.0%) of participants who engaged in full-time work, 8.4% of those who worked part-time, and 6.5% in casual employment reported missing day/s at their work setting in the past 12 months because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
Experiences of harassment or assault
• Two-fifths (40.8%) of participants reported in the past 12 months experiencing verbal harassment based on their sexuality or gender identity.
• Almost one-quarter (22.8%) of participants reported in the past 12 months experiencing sexual harassment or assault based on their sexuality or gender identity.
• Almost one-tenth (9.7%) of participants reported in the past 12 months experiencing physical harassment or assault based on their sexuality or gender identity.
• The proportions of participants reporting ever experiencing verbal harassment (57.6%) or physical harassment or assault (15.4%) based on their sexuality or gender identity were only slightly lower than those reported in Writing Themselves In 3 (61% and 18%, respectively).
• Over one-quarter (28.1%) of participants at secondary school experienced verbal harassment relating to their sexuality or gender identity in this setting in the past 12 months. This was approximately three times the 9.5% of participants at TAFE and four times the 7.2% who had this experience at university.
Mental health and wellbeing
Rates of mental ill-health were very high within this sample of LGBTQA+ young people. The best available comparison we can make to the general population is drawn from the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing . While the report of that survey does not break down responses in the 14- to 21-year-old range, it does do so for those aged 16 to 17, hence the comparison we make here.
• High or very high levels of psychological distress among 16- to 17-year-old participants of Writing Themselves In 4 (83.3%) were more than three times that of the 27.3% reported among the general population aged 16 to 17 years.
• Almost three-fifths (59.1%) of participants aged 16 to 17 years had experienced suicidal ideation in the past 12 months, more than five times the proportion observed in the general population aged 16 to 17 (11.2%).
• More than one-tenth (11.0%) of participants aged 16 to 17 years had attempted suicide in the past 12 months, almost three times the 3.8% observed in the general population aged 16 to 17.
• Over one-quarter (25.6%) of participants aged 16 to 17 years had attempted suicide in their lifetime, almost five times the 5.3% reported among the general population aged 16 to 17.
• One-fifth (20.0%) of trans women had attempted suicide in the past 12 months, followed by 16.7% of trans men, 13.2% of non-binary participants, 9.1% of cisgender women, and 6.7% of cisgender men.
• Among participants who had experienced suicidal ideation, planning or attempts, or self-harm in the past 12 months, less than two-fifths (38.1%) had accessed a professional counselling or support service in regard to suicide or self-harm in the past 12 months.
Experiences of homelessness
• Almost one-quarter (23.6%) of participants had experienced one or more forms of homelessness in their lifetime, and over one-tenth (11.5%) had this experience in the past 12 months.
• Trans men and trans women were the most likely to have reported experiencing homelessness. Almost one in five trans men (19.5%) and trans women (17.6%) reported experiencing one or more forms of homelessness in the past 12 months, followed by 15.3% of non-binary participants, 9.9% of cisgender men, and 8.4% of cisgender women.
• More than a quarter (26.0%) of participants who had experienced homelessness felt that this experience was related to being LGBTIQA+. This was most common among trans men (45.2%) and trans women (37.9%). ...
Engagement with professional support services
• Nearly two-thirds (62.9%) of participants had accessed an in- person professional counselling or support service, over one-fifth (21.2%) a professional text or webchat support service, and over one-tenth (13.2%) a professional telephone support service in their lifetime.
• Overall, almost two-thirds (63.2%) of participants who accessed an LGBTIQA+-specific service the most recent time they accessed a professional support service reported that it had made the situation ‘better/ much better’, compared to half (50.2%) of those accessing an in-person professional counselling or support service, two fifths (39.6%) of those accessing a professional telephone support service, and one third (34.9%) of those accessing a professional text or webchat support service.
• Two-thirds (67.9%) of participants said they would prefer to access a professional support service in person if they were to need one in future, followed by 19.1% who preferred text or webchat, and 2.1% telephone. It should be noted these data were collected prior to COVID-19, which might influence preferences now.