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Sexual and gender identity discrimination

Many LGBTIQA+ people struggle with discrimination that can affect their lives. Learn more about this below.

Upset person sits alone while two other people are talking, one says "that's so gay"

Discrimination and its impact on mental wellbeing

Discrimination means the unfair treatment of someone because of personal qualities like their age, race, gender and sexuality. 

  • Most LGBTIQA+ people are happy, healthy and have enjoyable lives. 
  • But researchers have found that compared to straight people, nearly twice as many non-straight people are discriminated or abused because of their sexuality. Discrimination and abuse is even higher for gender-questioning and transgender people.
  • Because of fears about being discriminated and abused, many LGBTIQA+ people hide their sexual or gender identity in public - especially teens and young adults.
  • Researchers have found that discrimination and abuse are the main reasons that LGBTIQA+ people struggle with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and self-harm. 
  • For 80% of young people in the LGBTIQA+ community, discrimination and bullying happens within their school and has a huge effect on their wellbeing and education.

Hetero-cisnormativity and Hetero-cissexism

Why do the LGBTIQA+ community experience discrimination?

‘Heteronormativity’ is a word that means the way being straight is assumed to be the norm in society. People with heteronormative attitudes and beliefs think that people should always be straight and have opposite sex relationships.

‘Cisnormativity’ is a word that describes the way that identifying with a male or female gender is assumed to be the norm in society. People with cisnormative attitudes and beliefs think that a person’s assigned sex should always be male or female.

Because of this, hetero- and cisnormativity are thought to lead to discrimination like: heterosexism, cissexism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.

People with these attitudes and beliefs see the LGBTIQA+ community as less important, which can lead to discrimination of their rights and opportunities they can have.

‘Heterosexism’ is a type of discrimination that sees being straight as normal and superior to not being straight. ‘Cissexism’ is a type of discrimination that sees having a male or female gender identity as normal and superior to any other gender identity.

There are, and have been, lots of examples of heterosexism and cissexism in Australia, like: not allowing same-sex people to marry; not allowing people to list non-binary gender identities on their identification; and; stereotyping LGBTIQA+ people in the media. 

What is Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia?

There are several common words to describe the fear, hatred, discomfort or mistrust people have towards the LGBTIQA+ community...

Homophobia: Means discrimination towards people who identify as Gay, Lesbian or Homoromantic Asexual. 

Biphobia: Means discrimination towards people who identify as Bisexual or Pansexual.

Transphobia: Means discrimination towards people who are transgender, genderqueer or don’t follow traditional gender norms.

Homo/bi/transphobia can be a complex issue.

  • All kinds of people can be homo/bi/transphobic - even queer and non-binary people. These attitudes and beliefs are usually because of irrational fears and misunderstandings about LGBTIQA+ community that are learned in families, communities, cultures or religions with similar views.
  • People who are attracted to others of the same-sex or who do not follow binary gender roles can sometimes experience ‘internalised’ homo/bi/transphobia. This means that they start to believe these negative attitudes and beliefs about themselves and may feel uncomfortable or disapproving of their own sexuality or gender identity.
  • Homo/bi/transphobia is a big issue for LGBTIQA+ people. Fortunately, this community and their allies have taken big steps towards fighting for equality in areas like marriage, employment, housing, health and protection from abuse.

Discrimination towards LGBTIQA+ people can be overt or subtle. Here are some examples:

Discrimination that is 'overt' is intentional and directed towards a person's sexual or gender identity, like:

Verbal or physical abuse about someone’s sexual or gender identity.
Refusing to give transgender people a job or protect non-straight people from bullying.
Passing laws that are unfair to LGBTIQA+ people.

Discrimination that is 'subtle' may be unintentional or hard to spot, but makes people feel just as hurt, unwanted or unimportant because of their sexuality or gender identity, like:

Using offensive words like ‘fag’, ‘dyke’ and ‘tranny’ or sayings like ‘no homo’, ‘sexual choice’ and ‘gay lifestyle’.
Making assumptions about people being heterosexual and cisgender.
‘Outing’ someone by telling others about their sexuality or gender identity without their permission, which is hurtful and can lead to discrimination.

How can I help stop homo/bi/transphobia?

Everyone has the right to feel safe and be free from discrimination. Here are some things you can do to help stop homo/bi/transphobia:

If you feel safe doing so, practice ways to speak up against homo/bi/transphobia. It can help to practice responses to offensive comments/jokes you hear a lot.
Use the name a person has asked you to use even if you know they used to go by a different name that matched their assigned gender at birth. It's not funny or cool to tell people their old name.
Avoid making assumptions or stereotypes about LGBTIQA+ people. Remember that you cannot tell a person’s sexuality or gender identity just by looking at them.
Learn about issues in the LGBTIQA+ community and help others learn about them too. You could attend a march for LGBTIQA+ rights or like/share a post to help people understand homo/bi/transphobia – both just as important as each other.
Practice using words and sayings that don’t make assumptions about someone’s sexual and gender identity. Ask “Do you have a partner?” rather than “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?" Use “they”, “them”, and “their” instead of “him” and “her”.
Don’t use offensive language to describe LGBTIQA+ people and be aware of how language – like saying “that’s so gay” – can be hurtful.

If you're experiencing homo/bi/transphobia, you don't have to deal with it alone.

It's important to get support from people you trust in the LGBTIQA+ community or their allies.

If you don't know anyone, you can search the Internet for LGBTIQA+ organisations, support communities and counselling services like Kids Helpline. 

We're always here for you. Give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email to talk to one of our counsellors today!

This content was last reviewed 29/03/2018

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