Several months ago the Socialist Party began a campaign to get Yarra City Council to stock books and magazines of interest to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community in its libraries.
Often the local library is the only safe space for young people who are coming out. At school and even in the home LGBTI youth can face bullying and social pressure to adhere to a so-called norm. The Socialist Party website reported in May that:
“Recent studies have shown that up to one in five young LGBTI people have experienced homophobic bullying. Up to 16 per cent have been assaulted because of their sexuality. Young people who are bullied or assaulted often feel isolated and become depressed. They have lower levels of self-esteem which often leads to poor education results or high drop out rates.
“Of those who are victims of assault, 60 per cent have consequently considered harming themselves. Rates of self-harm and suicide are up to eight times higher than for heterosexual teens.
“Suicide is actually the leading cause of death among young LGBTI people. The majority of LGBTI suicides take place at age 20 or younger, with nearly one-third occurring before the age of 17.”
In the libraries, young people exploring their sexuality can read and discover that they are not alone. They can improve their knowledge of health issues and find links to useful organisations and support groups.
For a Council that claims to be progressive and LGBTI-friendly, it was a disgrace that the libraries did not have a budget for LGBTI-specific literature. Even the conservative Port Philip Council puts funds aside to purchase LGBTI books.
Yarra Socialist Party Councillor Stephen Jolly called for the 2010-11 Council budget to include money for such literature. He appealed to residents to lobby the other councillors and to send in submissions to the Council to support this call. The Melbourne Leader followed our campaign and published a front page article on the issue.
Submissions were received from several people including fiction writer, Tom Cho. Tom wrote: “I support Cllr Stephen Jolly’s proposal…when I was younger, I sought out queer books in libraries”.
Chistros Tsiolkas, world famous author of ‘The Slap’ and ‘Loaded’, wrote “I remember how crucial it was discovering literature in the libraries that talked directly to me as a youth about my sexuality and my identity…I still recall the excitement and joy I felt coming across James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room in the library and realizing not only was I not alone, there was a way out of self-loathing and despair.”
The June budget included an amendment to put extra resources into the libraries to buy LGBTI literature. This small step forward was the result of our campaign and the active involvement of local LGBTI residents and their supporters. Well done to all concerned.
By Socialist Party reporters