Ro Allen breaks down stigma surrounding LGBTI community

TIME TO TALK ABOUT EQUALITY: Victorian Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Ro Allen visited Ballarat on Wednesday. PICTURE: Chloe Biggin.

TIME TO TALK ABOUT EQUALITY: Victorian Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Ro Allen visited Ballarat on Wednesday. PICTURE: Chloe Biggin.

If Ro Allen could go back and tell her 16-year-old self one thing it would be: “It gets better.”

The Victoria’s first gender and sexuality commissioner spoke about her own struggles with her sexuality and depression during her teenage years at the launch of the LGBTI Equality Roadshow in Ballarat on Wednesday.

“There were times during my teenage years where I felt suicidal and I wish I could go back and tell myself ‘it gets better,’” she said.

“There are still suicides and self-harm of young LGBTI people happening now because they don’t feel like they belong.”

“When that act of suicide happens, I can’t think of a person that wouldn’t want to go back in time and tell that person they’re loved and accepted, so why don’t we do that now?”

Ms Allen said statistics showed more than 30 per cent of all heaspace referrals nationally are LGBTI young people.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet is currently rolling out an LGBTI Equality Roadshow across 17 towns in regional and rural Victoria.

The aim of the trip is to reduce discrimination, share information, and to promote the importance of inclusion of LGBTI Victorians in regional communities.

 Ms Allen also touched on the high rates of drug use and substance abuse in the LGBTI community particularly a significant increase in the use crystal meth among young gay men.

“The alcohol and drug use in the LGBTI community can be attributed a lot to depression and anxiety and trying to escape,” she said.

“But if we address the underlying discrimination and people feel included in society then they’re less likely to try and use other substances to have that escape.”

At an event held by the Committee for Ballarat for the LGBTI community at Craig’s Royal Hotel, Ms Allen said intimate family violence among same-sex couples was another critical area which needed to be addressed.

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence found 25 per cent of family violence involves men as victims.

“It’s really hard for service providers to get their head around it when a gay man turns up and says they have been a victim of family violence because service provision is not set up for that,” Ms Allen said.

Research also showed same-sex-attracted youth from faith-based or multi-cultural backgrounds were at higher risk of harm.

“Young people are desperate to be part of the LGBTI community but they’re also desperate to stay a part of their cultural or multi-faith community so how do they bridge that?” Ms Allen said.

“Many have walked away from one or the other.

“But I would hope for a world where they don’t have to make choices and can remain connected to all their communities.”

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