Young people in general already face high levels of discrimination in society. Youth unemployment remains high with some areas of Australia recording levels of more than 40 per cent!
If you can get a job you will most likely be paid only a portion of the minimum wage until you are 21. While you can work and pay taxes from the age of 15, you are not able to vote against the parties that implement these discriminatory laws until you are 18.
Young Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people not only have to deal with all this but they also face discrimination on the basis of their sexuality. Homophobic bullying in schools is a particularly big problem in Australia.
Adolescence is a time where many people feel a huge pressure to fit in and conform. The stereotypes which are encouraged in schools and by the media portray certain types of ‘normal’ relationships. Those who do not fit into the strict heterosexual category often find it hard to fit in.
Consequently many young LGBTI people are bullied at school. Unlike other discriminatory acts like racism, bullying someone because of their sexuality has no clear cut rules in many schools. Words such as ‘gay’ are used openly as a derogatory term.
As we know bullying has a serious impact on the later lives of the victim. Things like post-traumatic stress disorder as well as alcohol or drug abuse are just some of the issues that people who have experienced bullying can face.
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.
These figures point to the need for urgent action to stop homophobic bullying. Every school, university and workplace should have a strict non-discrimination policy. Issues facing the LGBTI community should be part of every school curriculum.
Schools also need to provide more councillors to students who are facing difficulties. Sexual education classes in schools should be extended to cover all issues relating to gender, sexual orientation and identity. Teachers should also be given more training in this field.
One reason why these demands are not currently met is because the education system is underfunded. Instead of providing for people’s welfare and wellbeing governments are cutting corners to save costs. Private schools are run as profit making enterprises and public schools are forced to follow suit.
Discrimination however is also deeply rooted in the society we live in. School authorities along with governments and employers use ‘divide and rule’ tactics to maintain their power. From their point of view it is better we are divided over issues such as race, religion, gender and sexuality rather than uniting to campaign against those who exploit us all.
The Socialist Party stands for the unity of young and working LGBTI people. We link struggles against discrimination to those against low pay, exploitation and the under-funding of our education system. We also fight for the right to vote at 16. Ultimately we campaign for a socialist society where people’s needs are put before profits and where discrimination of all types would be a part of history, not our lives.
By SP reporters