With unrelenting attacks on the safe schools program, divisive debate about the proposed marriage equality plebiscite, the horrific mass murder at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the tragic suicide of Indigenous gay youth Tyrone Unsworth, the past 12 months have undeniably been tough on members of Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) communities.
Now we have empirical evidence to prove that last year was indeed an annus homophobicus.[i]
At the start of this year I conducted a survey of LGBTIQ Australians asking about their experiences of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in 2016, covering a range of topics including verbal harassment, physical violence, the places where prejudice occurs, and discrimination in education, employment and other areas.
Excluding responses from non-LGBTIQ people, and from LGBTIQ people outside Australia, a total of 1,672 people completed the survey in the four weeks between 26 December 2016 and 21 January 2017.
This post is the first in a series of six reporting the results of this survey, with a particular focus on three questions about the verbal harassment and abuse experienced by LGBTIQ Australians.
For many people, a number of the results will be unsurprising and yet still shocking – although, even for hardened campaigners such as myself, there are a few findings that are both depressing and disturbing, especially the varying impact of verbal harassment on different sections of the LGBTIQ community.
Question 1: Have you ever experienced verbal harassment or abuse because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?
Question 2: Has one or more instances of this verbal harassment or abuse occurred in the past 12 months?
Overall, 74% of survey respondents – 1,226 people out of the 1,655 people who answered question 1 – indicated they had experienced verbal harassment or abuse because of their LGBTIQ status at some point in their life.
799 people – or 65% of respondents who answered yes to question 1[ii] – then answered question 2 by stating that at least one instance of this anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment or abuse had occurred during the last 12 months.
Even including those who answered no to question 1, that still means 48% of all respondents reported experiencing verbal harassment or abuse in the past year alone.
These numbers might not be surprising to members of our community, but it is nevertheless shocking to confirm that 3 out of every 4 LGBTIQ Australians have been verbally harassed because of who they are, with almost half of all respondents reporting homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal abuse in the last 12 months.
The following sections show the results to these two questions according to different demographic groupings, including LGBTIQ status, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, age, and residence by state and territory.
There were similarities, as well as some stark differences, in how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people experienced verbal harassment and abuse. Their respective answers to questions 1 and 2 are as follows:
Lesbian: 77.6% have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment, and of those 68.7% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[iii]
Gay: 78% ever, and of those 56.5% during the past 12 months[iv]
Bisexual: 63.9% ever, of those 68.8% in last 12 months[v]
Transgender: 81% ever, of those 84.4% in last 12 months[vi]
Intersex: 88.2% ever, of those 93.3% in last 12 months[vii], and
Queer: 79.8% ever, of those 79.9% in last 12 months[viii].
Among lesbian, gay, transgender and queer respondents, the proportion that had experienced verbal harassment or abuse at some point in their lives was remarkably consistent – all falling somewhere between 77.6% and 81%. The proportion of bisexual people reporting lifetime abuse was somewhat lower, at 63.9%[ix].
However, there were much larger differences between groups in terms of experiences of anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment and abuse over the past year.
While 43.4% of all gay respondents, and 44% of all bisexual respondents, reported verbal harassment or abuse during the last 12 months[x], this figure rose to 53.1% of all lesbian respondents (slightly above the overall average).
In terms of queer respondents the figure was higher still, at 63.9%, while for transgender people it rose again to 68.2%.
Think about that for a second: more than two-thirds of transgender people reported being verbally harassed or abused simply because of who they are in the past 12 months alone.
Further, while there is little difference between gay and transgender people in reporting lifetime verbal harassment (78% and 81% respectively), transgender people were 57% more likely to report verbal abuse over the past year.
Of course, all of these figures are far too high; no level of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia is acceptable. Nevertheless, we must not ignore the fact that, when it comes to verbal harassment and abuse over the last year, the burden has fallen much more heavily on transgender and queer Australians.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
A total of 62 survey respondents indicated that they were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander (or 3.7% of the sample).
83.3% reported that they had ever reported verbal harassment or abuse because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status[xi]. Of those, 78% reported verbal harassment or abuse during the past 12 months[xii].
That means 65% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ respondents reported homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic abuse during the last 12 months, significantly above the national average and placing them at similar risk to transgender and queer Australians.
The survey asked respondents to nominate their respective cohort: 24 and under; 25 to 44; 45 to 64; or 65 and over. The answers provided by these different groups were relatively similar for question 1, although varied greatly for question 2.
Have you ever experienced verbal harassment or abuse because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?
- 24 and under: 70.6% yes[xiii]
- 25 to 44: 78.2% yes[xiv]
- 45 to 64: 79.5% yes[xv], and
- 65 and over: 69.4% yes.[xvi]
Prima facie, the fact the figures for people aged under 25 are slightly lower than the two generations that preceded them might seem encouraging.
However, looked at in a different way, they are a cause for serious alarm: in 2017, a young LGBTIQ person is almost as likely to have experienced homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal abuse at some point in their comparatively shorter life as someone with 20 or even 40 more years life experience.
This concern is borne out by the answers to the second question:
Has one of more instances of this verbal harassment or abuse occurred in the past 12 months?
- 24 and under: 74.5% yes[xvii]
- 25 to 44: 58.9% yes[xviii]
- 45 to 64: 46.1% yes[xix], and
- 65 and over: 33.3% yes[xx].
The net effect of these two questions reveals that 54.6% of all respondents aged 24 or under have been verbally harassed or abused because of who they are in the last year, compared to 46.1% of respondents aged 25 to 44 and 36.3% of respondents aged 45 to 64.
To put it another way: young LGBTIQ Australians were 50% more likely to be subject to homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal harassment and abuse in 2016 than LGBTIQ people aged 45 to 64.
This result simultaneously proves and undermines the ‘It Gets Better’ message – yes, it gets better for individuals as they grow older, but, on the basis of these findings, it does not seem it has gotten significantly better for young LGBTIQ people today.
Personally, I believe this result at least partially reflects the fallout of attacks on the safe schools program by religious fundamentalists and right-wing extremists, with a potentially devastating impact on young LGBTIQ people, many of whom are only beginning their journey toward self-understanding and self-acceptance, and consequently may be lacking the same resilience as their older counterparts.
State or Territory of Residence
In contrast to the significant differences in results based on age, the levels of anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment and abuse reported in different jurisdictions around Australia were remarkably consistent. The respective answers to question 1 and 2 are as follows:
New South Wales: 74% have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment, and of those 64.8% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[xxi]
Victoria: 74.1% ever, and of those 67.3% during the past 12 months[xxii]
Queensland: 76.2% ever, of those 63% in last 12 months[xxiii]
Western Australia: 76.3% ever, of those 65.5% in last 12 months[xxiv]
South Australia: 71.1% ever, of those 66% in last 12 months[xxv]
Tasmania: 70.3% ever, of those 77.9% in last 12 months[xxvi]
Australian Capital Territory: 73.2% ever, of those 51.2% in last 12 months[xxvii], and
Northern Territory: 76.2% ever, of those 56.3% in last 12 months[xxviii].
Including those who answered no to question 1, this means for most states and territories the proportion of LGBTIQ people reporting verbal harassment or abuse in the last 12 months was between 42.9% (NT) and 50% (WA)[xxix].
The jurisdiction with the lowest incidence of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal abuse in the last year was the ACT at 37.5%; the highest was Tasmania at 54.1% of all respondents.
Of course, while the rates of anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment may be similar across Australia, the options available to victims of such abuse vary considerably.
Only four jurisdictions offer any legal protections against vilification to the LGBTI community (NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT[xxx]). With no equivalent to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 contained in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, LGBTI people in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory are not protected against vilification at any level[xxxi].
Question 3: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of this homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal harassment or abuse [Optional]
This question allowed respondents to provide an example of the verbal harassment or abuse they had received, irrespective of when it had occurred.
A large number of LGBTIQ respondents took up this opportunity, and the results are sobering, and frequently heart-breaking, to read. A lightly-edited[xxxii] version of these comments can be found at the following link:
I encourage you to take the time to read the survey respondent’s very personal stories of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic abuse, of them experiencing verbal harassment simply because of who they are.
Ideally, conservative and/or right-wing politicians, many of whom claim that anti-LGBTIQ prejudice either doesn’t exist, or is no longer a serious problem, would read them too. If they did, they would have their ‘relaxed and comfortable’ ideas shattered by the irrefutable evidence provided via these real-life stories.
From my perspective, some of the derogatory comments related to sexual orientation that stood out include:
“I was just coming out of a convenience store and walked past this man who was staring at me. Then suddenly he started screaming “Faggot, faggot!!” at me. No one around me said or did anything. I just tried to not react and get away as soon as I could.”
“I normally get something once a year. Walking down the street in Brisbane, my (now) husband and I were shouted at by a couple of blokes who started by saying: ‘you have got to be fucking kidding’ in reference to the fact we were holding hands.”
“I recently saw two young gay men, a couple, who were walking up Chapel Street holding hands. A group of 3 older men were harassing them, following them. I joined the 2 gay men and told them to cross the road and ignore the others. I was then also subjected to the same vitriol with comments such as ‘there’s another one’ and ‘look at the 3 poofters’. We walked into a crowded shop and they didn’t follow us. I was extremely upset by this as were the 2 other younger fellows.”
“I was in my Drs surgery last year & I was abused, & my children were abused, by another patient. My Dr had to drag him away. Some of the names I was called were pervert, deviant, faggot. My kids were called queer, sexually perverted and confused.”
“A co-worker was informed that I identify as bisexual. She berated me openly, saying that I was merely attention seeking and that my children would be very confused adults with such poor guidance in life. She then contacted my husband through social media and told him to take my children and leave because raising them with a mentally ill person was dangerous.”
Transphobic harassment, and verbal abuse on the basis of gender identity, was also disturbingly widespread:
“Public name calling outside a local pub, shouting to others that I don’t have a penis… Being deadnamed in public despite being asked not to, in dismissal of transition or gender status… All in the last 3 months.”
“I was harassed outside a disabled toilet, which I went to because I was uncomfortable in gendered toilets. I overheard someone talking about a ‘faggot’ and learned they were talking about me. I was called transsexual repeatedly against my will by someone. Constant misgendering, deadnaming and disrespect on a daily basis just for being me…”
“Without going into detail, I have been referred to as a tranny, and had both my sexuality and gender identity mocked and invalidated repeatedly. I have been told to kill myself an innumerable amount of times, including being told to ‘get my teeth and gender straight or kill myself’, and that my gender is ‘cancer’. This is just a short list of the abuse I’ve suffered.”
“Demeaning laughter. Hostile stares. Derogatory language (eg ‘faggot’, ‘it’), usually just spoken audibly to others in front of me occasionally yelled from cars. Deliberate misgendering. I’ve noticed increased hostility from authority figures (eg ticket inspectors) in response to me looking more identifiably trans also. When I was closeted, I used to find people making transphobic jokes in front of me a common and painful experience.”
“Because of my choice of clothing/hairstyle I get called shemale. Heshe. Thing. It. Freak. Pervert. Dyke. Faggot. And that’s just the shortlist, and the most common insults I deal with, especially when I go clothes shopping or use a public restroom.”
This story was worrying, both because of the source of the discriminatory comments, but also because of the lack of action by authorities:
“I’m a pre-service teacher (still in university completing a bachelor). While on one of my teaching placements I received verbal harassment intermittently from the year 6 classes. When I reported this I was underwhelmed by the response from the faculty, both at my teaching school and the university faculty. The underlying cause of transphobic slurs directed towards me was undermined by only addressing ‘disrespect’ and they refused to address anything extending from that. When I expressed my concern in not addressing homophobia and transphobia directly I was met with hostility from the faculty, which made my teaching the remaining 3 weeks very uncomfortable.”
The most common story shared in response to this question concerned homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse from people in passing cars: at least 78 different comments cited this type of harassment.
This is both an extraordinary total, and an extraordinary indictment of the kind of person who would engage in the behaviour of shouting anti-LGBTIQ abuse at strangers from the safety, comfort and anonymity of their vehicles.
A typical story related to this type of harassment: “Minding my own business at a train station waiting to be picked up and a car full of guys and girls were yelling out ‘faggot’ to me just because they didn’t like the look of me.”
Although perhaps my favourite comment (for reasons that will soon become obvious) was this: “I was on a date walking with the guy and a guy started yelling at us from his car while he was driving, he lost control of the car and crashed into a sign.” #karma
Another common story was homophobic, biphobic or transphobic harassment on public transport, including trains, buses, trams and even taxis: at least 34 comments reported this kind of abuse. This included:
“Frequent dirty looks in public. Once on a bus (my partner and I were holding hands and talking) a woman stood up from her seat [and] said loudly that ‘we didn’t need to rub our sexuality in everyone’s face’ and moved to a seat further away from us.”
“On a packed train going home and one man took offense to another man’s skin was touching him (we were crammed in together… everyone was touching everyone). He started screaming about how the next person doing ‘any more gay shit’ to him was going to cop it. And screamed at the poor man who tried to defend himself. Anyone who tried to get him to calm down was met with homophobic language and threats. It was very scary.”
“(I’m a trans man, my husband is a cis man – we married and had a daughter before I transitioned). Just last week my husband and I were boarding a bus to the local shopping centre with our 4 year old daughter in tow. The myki machine was taking a bit of time to read each card. A man behind us shouted ‘move it, faggots!’ at us several times. Our daughter became visibly upset. No one stepped in to help or say anything. The man spent the entire bus ride glaring at us and making snide comments to the person in front of him.”
Perhaps most disappointing about the comments in response to question 3 was the fact approximately 20 people described homophobia, biphobia or transphobia from other members of the LGBTIQ community. This was particularly aimed at bisexual people, and to a slightly lesser degree transgender people[xxxiii]. For example:
“Told I’m greedy for being bi, that bisexuality is an excuse to hide that I’m ‘actually gay’, told that I’m a disgrace to the LGBT+ community for ‘not being able to decide’/’pick a side’…”
“Mostly it’s been lesbians telling me that bisexuals are just straight people trying to be trendy and undermining my identity…”
“There have been quite a few instances over the years where people have learned my sexuality and gone on a rant on how disgusting it is, and in some instances behaved threateningly while doing so. This comes from both non-LGBT+ and LGBT+ people.”
“Spat on in a gay bar for being transgender. Called a freak and told to kill myself. Been told I’m not a real man.”
If we are going to campaign for the elimination of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia from society, then it is incumbent upon us to do better on these issues within our own communities, too.
One small positive from the responses to question 3: the old stereotype of gay man (or trans person) as ‘paedophile’ appears to be fading away, with only eight comments including this description as an element of the verbal harassment or abuse received. That particular form of abuse cannot die soon enough.
The results of this survey suggest that 3 out of every 4 LGBTIQ Australians have experienced homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal harassment or abuse at some point in their lives.
The survey also confirms that 2016 was a bad year for the LGBTIQ community, with 48% of people reporting that at least one instance of this anti-LGBTIQ verbal abuse occurred in the past 12 months.
These figures are unacceptably high to begin with, but we must also not overlook the fact these proportions are higher still for several groups within the LGBTIQ community who are particularly vulnerable:
- Transgender individuals were 57% more likely to report verbal harassment and abuse in the past 12 months than gay people
- Queer individuals were 47% more likely than gay people to experience recent verbal abuse
- Almost two-thirds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents were subject to homophobic, biphobic or transphobic verbal harassment throughout the course of the past year, and
- LGBTIQ people aged 24 or under were 50% more likely to have experienced recent verbal abuse than their counterparts aged 45 to 64.
These statistics show that the state of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Australia, in 2017, features far more anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment than any of us would like. The stories shared in response to question 3, detailing personal accounts of this abuse, powerfully reinforces this fact.
As noted at the beginning of this post, this has been the first in a series of six articles reporting the results of my ‘The State of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia’ survey.
The next five, which focus on physical abuse or violence, the places where prejudice occurs, and discrimination in education, employment and other areas, will be published during March and April.
If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.
If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:
- QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)
[i] See 2016: Annus Homophobicus.
[ii] Only people who answered yes to question 1 were provided with the opportunity to answer question 2, with 1,220 people completing the second question and 421 people (or 35%) indicting they had not experienced verbal harassment or abuse because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in the past 12 months.
[iii] Question 1: 253 yes/73 no. Question 2: 173 yes/79 no.
[iv] Question 1: 501 yes/141 no. Question 2: 280 yes/216 no.
[v] Question 1: 333 yes/188 no. Question 2: 229 yes/104 no.
[vi] Question 1: 303 yes/71 no. Question 2: 255 yes/47 no. For those respondents who identified as both trans and bisexual, this figure was even higher – 86.3% reporting lifetime abuse. Queer trans respondents also reported higher rates (86.2% lifetime abuse).
[vii] Question 1: 15 yes/2 no. Question 2: 14 yes/1 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re intersex status must be treated with caution. For this reason, intersex status is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.
[viii] Question 1: 394 yes/100 no. Question 2: 314 yes/79 no.
[ix] Without additional information, it is difficult to reach any firm conclusions about why this is the case, although one factor may be historically lesser visibility of bisexuality (which may reduce verbal harassment and abuse, but also exacerbates exclusion and isolation).
[x] Noting that this calculation includes the numbers of respondents who answered no to question 1.
[xi] Question 1: 50 yes/10 no.
[xii] Question 2: 39 yes/11 no.
[xiii] 627 yes/261 no.
[xiv] 341 yes/95 no.
[xv] 221 yes/57 no.
[xvi] 25 yes/11 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re people aged 65 and over must be treated with caution. For this reason, this group is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.
[xvii] 485 yes/141 no.
[xviii] 201 yes/140 no.
[xix] 101 yes/118 no.
[xx] 8 yes/16 no.
[xxi] Question 1: 401 yes/141 no. Question 2: 259 yes/141 no.
[xxii] Question 1: 286 yes/100 no. Question 2: 191 yes/93 no.
[xxiii] Question 1: 192 yes/60 no. Question 2: 121 yes/71 no.
[xxiv] Question 1: 116 yes/36 no. Question 2: 76 yes/40 no.
[xxv] Question 1: 96 yes/39 no. Question 2: 62 yes/32 no.
[xxvi] Question 1: 78 yes, 33 no. Question 2: 60 yes/17 no.
[xxvii] Question 1: 41 yes/15 no. Question 2: 21 yes/20 no.
[xxviii] Question 1: 16 yes/5 no. Question 2: 9 yes/7 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re people in the Northern Territory must be treated with caution.
[xxix] Full results (reporting verbal harassment of abuse in the past 12 months, all respondents):
- NSW 47.8%
- Victoria 49.5%
- Queensland 48%
- WA 50%
- SA 45.9%
- Tasmania 54.1%
- ACT 37.5%
- NT 42.9%
[xxx] Although NSW does not include vilification protections for bisexual or intersex people, and Queensland does not protect intersex people.
[xxxi] Obviously, depending on the circumstances of the verbal harassment or abuse, only some of the responses given to the survey would fit the legal definition of vilification, irrespective of the ground on which it was based.
[xxxii] Comments were edited to, amongst other things:
-Remove identifying information
-Remove defamatory comments, and
-Remove offensive remarks (for example, deleting explicitly racist comments and/or unnecessary descriptions of a person’s race).
[xxxiii] Although I was particularly disturbed by a small number of respondents who included transphobic comments in their answers to question 3 itself, which were subsequently edited to remove the most offensive elements.