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PRIVATE LIVES A report on the health and wellbeing of GLBTI Australians is a paper published by GAY AND LESBIAN HEALTH VICTORIA; THE AUSTRALIAN RESEARCH CENTRE IN SEX, HEALTH & SOCIETY.

Link to the full original paper


Discrimination may be experienced in different ways, ranging from open violence and abuse to subtle or tacit disapproval or neglect. Many GLBTI people have had experiences across this spectrum and are not strangers to the experience of discrimination and violence. A NSW study (Attorney Generals Department NSW, 2003) found over 50% had experienced of violence, with three quarters of those participants who had experienced violence having experienced two or more incidents. A recent Victorian study of GLBTI people showed that over 80% of participants had experienced public insult, 70% verbal abuse, 20% explicit threats and 13% physical assault (McNair & Thomacos, 2005). A national study of same sex attracted young people (Hillier et al, 2005) showed 44% had been verbally abused and 16% had been physically abused. The experiences of participants in the Private Lives Survey were no different.

Overall, 67.3% of participants indicated that fear of prejudice or discrimination caused them at least sometimes to modify their daily activities (Table 45). Of those who modified their daily activities at least sometimes, 13.7% did so at home, 53.7% at work and 51.1% in social settings and 42.2% with their family and nearly three quarters (72.9%) in public (Table 46). Of particular concern is the finding that 90% of the sample reported that they had, at some time, avoided expressions of affection. This simple everyday pleasure, which is commonplace amongst heterosexuals, is clearly seldom safely experienced by same sex couples. The majority (87.6%) of the sample had at some time avoided disclosure of their gender identity or sexuality, and some of these instances are clearly with health care providers (see Table 32). It was also notable that significant numbers of participants, particularly gay men, always avoided disclosing their sexual identity for fear of discrimination. This pattern of modifying behaviour for fear of discrimination or prejudice would seem well grounded, given the experiences of harassment, discrimination and violence reported by the participants.

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We compared whether or not people modified their daily activities with their stated locality. This showed that daily activities were more commonly modified in localities other than metropolitan. In particular those living in regional Australia were most likely to report modification in social settings and at home. No such variation was observed in relation to modifying activities at work, with family or in public.

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It is not surprising that the younger members of the cohort are most likely to modify their behaviour at home, with the family and in social settings, given the well-documented violence and rejection they may experience in these settings (Hillier et al., 2005). Modification of daily activities lessens for those over 70, but it remains steady and unacceptably high for all those under 70. The exception is modification of daily activities at home which from the age of twenty on is of less importance. This suggests that most participants have found home situations which are supportive of their identity. There is also some concern for the small increase in this area for the over 70s, which may indicate a renewed need to “hide” in when accommodation options change with age. This would be consistent with the work of Harrison (2001) who found a high degree of invisibility of GLBTI people in the aged care sector.

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Expressions of affection are avoided, at least some of the time, by the majority of survey participants, indicating a discomfort in some environments on a regular basis. A similar pattern can be seen in disclosure of sexual/gender identity where some vigilance is clearly exercised by the vast majority of participants

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Personal insults or verbal abuse were the most commonly experienced form of abuse, reported by 59.3% of the total sample. Just under half (44.3%) reported that rumours had been spread about them. Just over a third (35.2%) reported that they had been socially excluded. Threats of violence or intimidation were reported by just under a quarter (23%). Physical attacks or other kind of violence have been experienced by more than one in eight of participants (13.7%), an unacceptably high figure. Another common experience of discrimination, harassment and violence was the threat of being ‘outed’ which, in a homophobic climate, has the potential to cause extreme distress and negative outcomes – 15.3% reported this experience. Around one in ten (11.9%) reported having objects thrown at them and 10% had received obscene mail or telephone calls.

Discrimination also played out in the workplace where 10.3% of participants reported having been refused employment or promotion as a result of their sexuality. This is particularly worrying given that workplace discrimination on the basis of gender or sexuality is illegal. Similarly, having one’s personal property damaged or defaced was reported by 8.5%; somewhat fewer (6.8%) participants reported having suffered hate mail or graffiti. The final six forms of discrimination, harassment and violence were each reported by less than 5% of the sample: rape 3.6%, sexual assault 3.5%, blackmail 3.3%, the refusal of finance 3.1%, refusal of housing 2.2% and the review or revocation of child custody (0.7%). All of these six types of experience are serious matters with the potential to have a major impact on the small numbers of people who experienced them.

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An interesting pattern emerged regarding the experience of abuse and locality. Personal insults or verbal abuse were more common in major cities than in inner regional, outer regional or remote Australia. This is probably associated with the concentration of homophobic people in the cities and the greater visibility of GLBTI people.

However, the experience of threats of violence or physical attack was most common in outer regional Australia than in other areas, suggesting a greater visible deterrent to coming out in these regions and more potentially extreme consequences for those who do.

Intimate partner abuse or family violence has been a hidden issue in the gay and lesbian community and is likely to be under-reported in general research. A Western Australian report on the issue (Vickers, 1996) cited research suggesting that the prevalence was at least similar to heterosexual family violence and may well be higher. In addition to under-reporting, it is suggested that many GLBTI people do not identify family violence when they experience it because of a lack of recognition of its existence in same sex relationships. When violence is reported, the lack of appropriate services for both perpetrators and victims is likely to contribute to an unsatisfactory response or resolution, which further compounds the problem of silence and distrust.

Estimation of the rates of family violence experienced by Australian women range between 8% and 28% (Hegarty et al., 2000), A disturbingly high percentage (32.7%) of respondents in this sample reported having been in a relationship where the partner was abusive. Abuse was reported more frequently by women than men, and was highest for transgender males, but the rates for all groups are unacceptably high. While it is not clear from these data whether the abuse was from a same sex partner or not, it is likely, given the relationship profile of the sample that a significant amount occurred in same sex relationships. Irrespective of the gender of the perpetrator, the levels of experience of domestic violence represent a considerable burden of distress and injury for GLBTI people.

Participants reported experiencing a range of abusive behaviours from their partner including high levels of physical assault and injury, insult and isolation.

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Of those participants who had experienced abuse, only one in ten had reported such abuse to the police. Some categories of abuse are not physical and may not constitute a criminal offence. However, if we only look at those participants who reported having been hit, 18.7% had reported this to the police; of those who reported forced sex, 17.9% had reported this to the police. Of the third of participants who reported having been physically injured, only 20.4% had reported this to the police.

We asked questions about the experience of reporting abuse to the police.

Of those who had dealings with the police, more than half (56.4%) agreed they had been treated with courtesy and respect. A similar percentage (54.8%) agreed that appropriate action had been taken by the police. While it is pleasing to see that more than half of these respondents had positive experience of the police, it is also unacceptable that nearly half did not. Around Australia police forces are increasingly instituting affirmative action programs to improve relationships with GLBTI people. These appear to be having some positive impact and should be developed further. Of even greater concern, given these high rates of intimate partner abuse, is the lack of appropriate referral options for female perpetrators and male victims in mainstream services.


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