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Sexual, gender and bodily diversity discrimination

Many LGBTIQ+ people experience 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"

This article was written and reviewed by people in LGBTIQ+ communities.

Discrimination and its impact on mental wellbeing

With growing acceptance and recognition in society, most LGBTIQ+ people have good mental health. However, many others experience discrimination that can have a big impact on their health and wellbeing.

  • Discrimination means the unfair treatment of someone because of personal qualities like their age, race, gender and sexuality.
  • Compared to straight people, nearly twice as many people who aren’t straight are discriminated or abused because of their sexuality. This is even higher for gender diverse and transgender people. People with intersex variations also experience high rates of discrimination, harm and abuse.
  • Fear of discrimination and abuse leads to many people hiding their sexuality or gender identity and information about their bodies.
  • Discrimination, harm and abuse are some of the main reasons that LGBTIQ+ people struggle with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and self-harm.
  • For 80% of young LGBTIQA+ people, discrimination and bullying happens within their school and has a huge effect on their wellbeing and education.

Hetero-cisnormativity and Hetero-cissexism

Why do LGBTIQ+ communities experience discrimination?

Cisnormativity is the expectation that sex assigned at birth matches gender where the only two options are male or female.

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

Heteronormativity is the expectation that being straight is “normal”.  Heteronormative attitudes and beliefs include believing that people should always be straight and have opposite sex relationships.

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.

Because of the pressure that hetero- and cisnormativity places on people to think that being straight or male or female is the only “normal” way to be, they are thought to lead to discrimination like heterosexism, cissexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

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.

Stigmatisation and discrimination against intersex people

People with intersex variations face many of the same problems that LGBTIQ+ people do, but in different ways.

  • One of the most concerning is being forced and pressured to have medical procedures to make the bodies of intersex people look more “typically” female or male.
  • These practices are based on ideas that people need particular kinds of bodies to be “normal” or to prevent bullying and stigmatisation. They are also based on ideas that people with one kind of body will grow up to have one kind of identity.
  • There is no strong evidence that surgery can prevent bullying or stigmatisation, and make “normal” bodies. People with all kinds of bodies grow up to have all different kinds of identities.

"I know that I can live as me."

What is Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia?

There are several common words to describe the fear, hatred, discomfort or mistrust people have toward LGBTIQ+ communities:

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 carried out by anybody – even within LGBTIQ+ communities.

These attitudes and beliefs are usually due to the irrational fears and misunderstandings learnt in families, communities, cultures or religions.

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. For people with intersex variations, LGBTIQ+ spaces may not always be safe or understanding of them.

Discrimination is a big issue for LGBTIQ+ people. Fortunately, big steps have been taken towards fighting for equality in areas like marriage, employment, housing, health and protection from abuse.

For example, LGBTIQ+ youth attending schools that have anti-discrimination policies are more likely to feel safer. They have almost half the rate of abuse and negative mental health impact compared to schools without these in place.

Discrimination towards LGBTIQ+ 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 or body.
Refusing to give LGBTIQ+ people a job or failing to protect them from workplace bullying.
Passing laws that are unfair to LGBTIQ+ 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 (slurs) like ‘fag’, ‘dyke’, ‘tranny’ and 'hermaphrodite' or sayings like ‘no homo’, ‘sexual choice’ and ‘gay lifestyle’.
Making assumptions about people being heterosexual, cisgender and endosex (not intersex).
‘Outing’ someone by telling others about their sexuality or gender identity or information about their bodies without their permission, which is hurtful and leads to discrimination.

How can I help stop discrimination?

Everyone has the right to feel safe and be free from discrimination. Here are some things you can do to help stop it happening:

If you feel safe doing so, practice ways to speak up against discrimination. It can help to practice responses to offensive comments/jokes you hear a lot.
Don’t use offensive language to describe LGBTIQ+ people and be aware of how language – like saying “that’s so gay” – can be hurtful.
Avoid making assumptions or stereotypes about LGBTIQ+ people. Remember that you cannot tell a person’s body or sexuality or gender identity just by looking at them.
Learn about issues in LGBTIQ+ communities and help others learn about them too. You could attend a march for LGBTIQA+ rights, become an ally, or like/share a post to help people understand discrimination within these communities.
Practice using words and sayings that don’t make assumptions about someone’s sexuality 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”.
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 other people their old name.

If you're experiencing discrimination, you don't have to deal with it alone.

It's important to get support from people you trust in LGBTIQ+ communities or their allies.

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

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 09/10/2019

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