It was a win, but at what cost?
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It was a win, but at what cost?

Stories/252 , Issues/LGBTQIA+
Prince Alfred Park, Surry Hills NSW 2010, Australia
8th Dec 2017
It was a win, but at what cost?
There is compelling evidence to suggest that the same-sex marriage survey was detrimental to the health of young LGBT+ Aussies.

After years of campaigning for marriage equality, Australia has finally legalised same-sex marriage. But of the 25 other countries where same-sex marriage is also a legal right, Australia is the only country to have held a non-binding postal survey before making the change.

Prince Alfred Park on November 15. Photo: Erika Jackson.
Prince Alfred Park on November 15. Photo: Erika Jackson.

On Wednesday, November 15, festivities took place all across the country after Australia said yes to same-sex marriage. The country immediately transformed into a kaleidoscope of blazing colour as the Aussie LGBT+ community took to the streets to celebrate their victory.

It was, without a doubt, a win for the LGBT+ community, but shocking new evidence has left Australians wondering‘was it worth it?’

The stats

Following the beginning of the postal survey, national counselling services ReachOut, Beyond Blue, and QLife registered significant increases in call volume. During this time, the LGBT+ phone counselling service, QLife, reported a 20 percent increase in the number of people accessing their services. For ReachOut and Beyond Blue, their call volumes almost doubled during this period, with both services registering a 40 percent increase in people accessing their support services.

According the ReachOut’s media director, Liza Davis, “We have never seen so many new threads (conversations) about a specific issue like this - and there are countless other comments where young people are discussing the impact without specifically naming the survey.”

Who was affected?

Those who suffered most because of the same sex marriage survey were arguably younger LGBT+ Australians. 21-year-old gay male, Blair, and 22-year-old gay male, Cameron, can attest to this.

“It was heavy.” Says Blair, “Mostly because I work in the media and I had to read, watch, and observe everything. I did see a psychiatrist and psychologist over the debate to help with mental health.

“My anxiety went crazy. I overheard a few boys at university speaking about why they were voting no and this made me not want to complete my studies as I didn’t feel comfortable with these people being around me, and it wasn’t just university, it was public transport and simple social events that also caused me serious panic and anxiety.”

Cameron stated that the postal survey and no campaigners made him paranoid and feel as though he was an outsider.

“Every time a ‘no’ argument would appear on the radio or in my vicinity, I would start worrying and think to myself, ‘are the people in my space also agreeing with what’s being said, are they ok with my sexuality, do they think anything less of me?’”

Blair believes that the debate and campaigns would have been most difficult for the LGBT+ Australians who have not yet come out to family and friends. This is the case for 20-year-old queer female, Danni, who has always struggled with her sexuality;

“Being a young closeted person that grew up in the western suburbs going to Catholic schools definitely had an effect on my mental health. It made me so much more aware of the fact that I didn’t fit in and that people wouldn’t accept me.”

According to Danni, the same-sex marriage survey and no campaigners were highly detrimental to her mental health

“I think the ‘no campaign’ affected my mental health severely, as it did most LGBT+ people in Australia. It definitely made me feel like I couldn’t be honest and open about my sexuality and made me feel like I should stay in the closet, which is not something I want to do.

“Being closeted to most of the people I know definitely made a lot of cis, straight people believe that they were safe to say whatever they wanted around and to me, as they didn’t think it would have an impact on me in any way. A lot of straight people I know, especially those I worked with, would tell me comfortably that they were going to vote no, and I don’t think they would have told me that if they knew I wasn’t straight. The vote as a whole gave straight people a ‘free pass’, so to speak and made them feel like their beliefs, whether ‘yes’ or ‘no’ were more important than anyone else’s. Even the straight people voting yes had to make sure everyone around them knew that they were doing so."

How were they affected?

According to LGBT+ psychotherapist, Clinton Power, young LGBT people suffered immensely as a result of the same sex marriage debate. Clinton also believes that LGBT+ people are already more susceptible to mental illness and this debate has only made the issue worse.

“The ‘no campaign’ had a huge impact on the mental health of many LGBT+ people. Many LGBT people were feeling a whole range of feelings including anger, confusion, self-doubt, self-loathing, sadness, anxiety, and depression. We experienced an increase in enquiries to our counselling practice during the time of the same-sex postal survey.

“Many of my clients were feeling angry, sad, and outraged that this postal survey and debate about same-sex marriage was going ahead. As the debate continued over many weeks, I noticed the psychological well-being of a number of my clients deteriorated.

“LGBT people felt that the general public could vote on a human rights issue i.e. can two people of the same sex marry? Ultimately, this was incredibly distressing and many of my clients reported feeling out of control that this was allowed to occur.

“A number of my clients reported that they had to turn off the television, not listen to the news, and not engage in social media, because the same-sex marriage debate was causing them so much distress.

“I also had instances of clients falling out with friends and family because they had decided to vote no, this created unnecessary distress and heartbreak for many folk.”

Jennifer Perkins is an LGBT+ mental health professional who worked in the United States during 2008 when same-sex marriage did not pass and in 2013 when it did pass. She is now working as an LGBT counsellor in Australia;

“I wish that the politicians would have consulted what happened in the U.S. before doing this, because it got so ugly and so bad for LGBT people, for example, I believe there were kids committing suicide during this time.

“In the U.S I had to do a lot of work with my clients on how to get through this. How do you reconcile the fact that your family and wider community thinks that you're ‘less than.’

“The survey is a very excellent example of the dominant culture oppressing minorities, you should never be voting on minority rights, it's not fair.

“It's a shame that Australia didn't show me that they had a better culture of oneness, you can’t do this to minorities.”

Prince Alfred Park on 15 November 2017. Photo: Erika Jackson
Prince Alfred Park on 15 November 2017. Photo: Erika Jackson

Despite the outcome, was it worth it?

Young LGBT Australians, Blair and Danni believe that, despite the result being in their favour, the experience was not worth it.

“No way was it worth it, how can a government say that a 40% increase in a mental health organisations services is worth $122 million. We got a yes outcome and that moment where I could kiss my partner knowing that we were one step closer to marriage, surrounded by our rainbow brothers and sisters cheering and crying which was an experience of a lifetime. The government should, however, be ashamed of themselves for putting a minority community through all of that in this day and age,” says Blair.

“I don’t think the ends justified the means in any way whatsoever. Of course I was really happy when the result was announced, but knowing that it could have been done quicker, cheaper and without impacting as many people in a such negative way seemed to annoy me even more,” says Danni.

A recent survey of around 3,300 LGBTI people across Australia, conducted by PFLAG and just.equal, found that the majority of respondents thought the process wasn't worthwhile despite the yes vote.

25% of participants responded with "definitely not" and 30% with "probably not". Two thirds of respondents also reported that the survey was far more harrowing than they had expected it to be.

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