Words by Jordan, 26 NSW
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There’s no denying Australia has come a long way in terms of LGBTQIA+ equality in just the twenty-first century alone. But last month, we learnt that—apart from a non-binary option under the gender section that becomes reassigned to male or female anyway—LGBTQIA+ people wouldn’t be included in the 2021 Australian Census. It really goes to show that there’s much more work to do, for the community to be seen, heard, and accommodated.
Let me break it down.
The Census is a mass survey of the Australian population. One of which the Australian Government uses to understand community needs—whether that be health, mental health services, education, and community and social services. It is how money is allocated to addressing these needs, so it’s a big deal.
According to a study in 2016, around 3% of the Australian adult population identified as either homosexual or bisexual. Over 2% identified as other sexual orientations or weren’t sure. That’s over 5%. Approximately 1.2 million people. And that was in 2016. Same-sex marriage was legalised in 2017, making this number likely higher now.
Why don’t we have a section in the Census to accommodate the needs of over 1.2 million Australians?
Questions that relate to sexuality and gender could make all the difference in understanding the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community.
“Without these questions, the once-in-five-year snapshot of the population won’t capture the full diversity of our community. It’s a missed opportunity to inform crucial decisions about what services are provided to our communities, and where,” said Anna Brown (CEO of Equality Australia) in an article by The Guardian.
As a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, it feels to me as if we’re still being forgotten; intentionally or not. What’s the point of the Census if the Government isn’t prepared to include all the diverse communities within our population?
“The lack of statistical data acknowledging the existence of diverse communities, like LGBTQIA+ people, directly impacts education. Indeed, equality and understanding of diverse communities all starts with education. What we learn in school has a huge impact on our beliefs and early understanding of life.”
A recent study surveyed by the University of Western Australia found that over 90% of LGBTQIA+ high school students across Australia hear homophobic language at school. I graduated high school seven years ago. These statistics are no surprise to me. But they might be to people without lived experience or inclusive education. I believe the lack of LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the education curriculum is linked to prolonged homophobia.
So, how can we change the ongoing homophobia that still exists in Australia? Well, for starters; including LGBTQIA+ questions in the Australian Census. This will provide the Government with not only a better understanding of what diverse communities need, but it really could create a positive ripple effect—starting with more inclusive education that leads to a brighter, healthier future for young people.
A more inclusive education from a young age, so that all children can grow up to have brighter futures with less negative mental health impacts, would save lives. Compared to the general population, LGBTQIA+ people are still much more likely to experience and be diagnosed with a mental health condition, self-harm, and attempt suicide. In 2006, a survey of over 2400 high school students in California found that in schools teaching LGBT-inclusive curriculum content, all students felt safer and reported less harassment.
In 2021, Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce LGBTQIA+ inclusion into the school curriculum. This means all public schools in the country now teach lessons about same-sex marriage, same-sex parenting, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The news of the curriculum change was announced in 2018, after a study for TIE found that nine out of ten LGBTQIA+ Scots experience homophobia in school. It just goes to show that data collection can really make a difference.
Want to have your voice heard on the matter? Join the #CountUsIn2021 movement and tell the Australian Government why it’s important that LGBTQIA+ Australians are counted as part of the Census.
Illustration by Aileen, You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc