It is my obligation to say that this article is my own personal experience growing up queer. I cannot speak for every LGBTIQ person, although our stories are similar, our journeys are our own
The experience of many young people growing up Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex or Queer (LGBTIQ) in Australia may not be pleasant. I lived in a world where fundamental human rights were discriminative and indifferent, and the social exclusion of not being counted as equal. Within our own homes and communities, the failure to understand these rights can leave many LGBTIQ people feeling disconnected and withdrawn.
A report recently published by Young and Well CRC in conjunction with the University of Western Sydney and Twenty10, highlighted a high number of young people face this problem on a daily bases. More than 1000 young people aged between 16-27 participated in the research, with 42% having thought about self-harm and/or suicide. Overlooking hatred, abuse and denial, many LGBTIQ people are resilient in facing these indignant challenges head on - expressing the right for optimism about tomorrow’s possibilities.
One of the hardest things we do is expressing the one thing we have guarded for a long time. Coming out as Gay, is one of the biggest secrets you may ever have, and it is our right to share or not.
I am a proud Aboriginal man, from the Wiradjuri Nation in Central West NSW, but it has taken me a long time to be a proud Gay man. At the age of 17 I contemplated suicide, suppressing who I am as a result of growing up in a country town with no LGBTIQ presence. 5 years later and much prouder of my lifestyle, I spurted out the four words I longed to say, but feared so much – ‘Mum, I am Gay!’ With a smile on her face, and a tear in her eye - she hugged me saying how much she loves me, leaving me with a feeling I have never felt before.
I felt so light, so free - the chain that held me down was gone, and the mask I carried for 22 years, no longer available for me to hide behind. For the first time in my life I was able to be me.
Reading the Growing up Queer report, I was touched by how many young people spoke out. Sharing their journeys, which highlighted the importance of education for LGBTIQ issues and rights. Our health and wellbeing is so vital, and it needs to be taken into account.
My experience is one of many, some good and some not so good. I am honoured to identify with two groups that have so much resilience, fight and drive. The legacy of Indigenous and LGBTIQ activists who fought for our social inclusion, justice and rights to be who we are, is so powerful. To anyone who thinks they are not good enough, who are contemplating suicide, or worries about coming out, remember the entire ocean is affected by a single pebble.
So be proud to be who you are; because is does get easier.
By Todd Fernando