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- Recent events in Victoria have driven a flood of calls to Mind Australia and other LGBTQ support hotlines.
- Far-right groups have targeted drag queen story times with threats of violence, leading to cancellations.
- The National Suicide Prevention conference heard this month that trans mental health is in crisis.
- A Melbourne University survey of trans people found 52 per cent were experiencing clinically significant symptoms of depression.
Mental health services say they are receiving an influx of distressed phone calls from LGBTQ people alarmed by recent anti-trans events and the cancellation of drag queen story times due to threats of violence.
Mind Australia said its LGBTQ suicide prevention service had received a month’s worth of referrals in two days after events led by British anti-transgender rights activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, also known as Posie Parker, including one on the steps of Victorian Parliament that was gate-crashed by neo-Nazis.
University of Melbourne research fellow Dr Sav Zwickl says trans mental health is in crisis.Credit: Penny Stephens
It said demand for the service remained high with the cancellation of drag story time events due to threats of violence also “undoubtedly affecting the mental health of vulnerable trans and gender diverse people”.
“We know these polarised public debates about trans and gender identity have an impact. We saw it with the rallies, the Religious Discrimination Bill, the marriage equality plebiscite – and now drag story time,” said Isabelle McGovern from Mind Australia.
The Age revealed on Monday that a drag story time planned for Eltham Library had been forced to move online. It followed the cancellation of several other drag-themed children’s events planned to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
Woodleigh School, which had scheduled book-reading events with drag queens Frock Hudson and Dolly Diamond, also cancelled its event after being targeted by right-wing fringe groups.
“As has been the case with a number of similar events, a systematic and targeted response by right-wing fringe groups led to the involvement of Victoria Police, who advised that we should cancel the events to avoid any public altercation or disruption, which were among the actions threatened by those opposed to story time,” the school said in a statement.
Victorian Equality Minister Harriet Shing said the impact of the cancellations had been devastating for many LGBTQ people, who deserved to feel safe and visible and recognised.
Shing said LGBTQ people already experienced high levels of mental health issues due to discrimination and stigma.
“The erasing of LGBTIQ+ people from opportunities to participate in community life as we have seen through the vile, violent and intimidating actions of a cowardly few have had a profound and distressing impact on LGBTIQ+ people,” she said.
However, Shing said the outpouring of love and determination from those who had wanted to hold the events – such as library staff – had been extraordinary.
The Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council also said requests for assistance had spiked in recent weeks.
“We’ve been contacted by Casey, Hume, and Brimbank councils recently who want mental health support for young people traumatised by recent events and debates,” said the council’s Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli.
Switchboard Victoria CEO Joe Ball said the peer-driven support service for LGBTQ people was receiving high numbers of distressed calls.
“People are phoning worried about Nazis, they are phoning worried about the cancellation of drag story time, they are worried not enough is happening to protect LGBTQI+ rights and people’s safety,” Ball said.
University of Melbourne research fellow Dr Sav Zwickl this month told the National Suicide Prevention conference that trans mental health was in crisis.
Preliminary findings from a survey by the University of Melbourne’s Trans Health Research Group found 8 per cent of transgender Australians reported a suicide attempt since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. In 2020-21, 4.8 per cent of the broader Australian population attempted to take their own life, according to the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing.
The University of Melbourne research, which surveyed 516 trans Australians, was conducted in May last year.
Zwickl said they were asked to report on transgender suicide attempts by the Victorian Coroner’s Court, which is holding an inquest into the suicides of five trans and gender diverse young people and their access to targeted mental health support.
The survey found 52 per cent were experiencing clinically significant symptoms of depression and 40 per cent clinically significant symptoms of anxiety.
It also found 41 per cent had thoughts of hurting themselves or that they would be better off dead in the two weeks prior to the survey.
“As far as I’m aware, this would be the most recent data in Australia in terms of trans mental health,” said Zwickl, who uses they/them pronouns.
Zwickl said the research probably reflected the lingering impact of the pandemic on trans mental health. It also coincided with the politicisation of transgender issues during the federal election and a campaign to ban transgender women from playing women’s sports.
“As a community we face one onslaught after another,” Zwickl said.
“You live with fear constantly, particularly if you are visibly trans. To be constantly on edge obviously takes a huge toll in terms of your physical health and your mental health.”
Zwickl said that whenever there was a barrage of anti-trans rhetoric there was an increase in people seeking support from LGBTQ mental health services such as Switchboard Victoria and ACON in NSW.
“What we see every time there is a spike in debate – we saw it around the election, we saw it around marriage equality – there’s a huge escalation in people seeking support from these LGBTI services. There is a very clear pattern there.”
Crisis support is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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