In all the debate, stance-taking and vitriol surrounding the LGBTI community, one thing often gets overlooked – there are real kids going through some really tough times.
First, they have to come to terms with their sexuality, and then they have to contend with what it means to be “different”. Next, they have to brace themselves to come out to family members, friends, peer groups and, well, the whole world. It’s a daunting, terrifying road to travel and they need all the support we can give them.
Unfortunately, the reality of what same-sex attracted youth experience is far removed from the concept of “support”. As documentary Love in Full Colour, available on SBS On Demand, states, 75 per cent of same-sex attracted young people suffer homophobic abuse, and 80 per cent of all abuse happens in schools. Faced with everything from outright slurs to insidious discrimination, the tragic reality is that numerous LGBTI kids try to kill themselves. Many succeed.
So while we’re whipping ourselves up into a frenzy debating the Safe Schools program, expressing our opinions on same-sex marriage and agreeing or disagreeing with the likes of Cory Bernardi, Love in Full Colour reminds us what’s important: young lives.
Here are the 12 young people you will meet in the thought-provoking documentary.
Liat: bullying turned her into a bully
From a young age, Liat felt unaccepted by other girls, who were rude to her about the fact that she wasn’t like them. The impact of being bullied on Liat was that she became a bully herself. As a result, she found it hard to make friends and feels like she “missed out on opportunities because of how insecure I was”.
Erin: multiple suicide attempts
At 13-and-a-half, Erin realised she was into girls. Her mother didn’t take the news well. “She picked up my dinner plate and threw it straight at my head,” she recalls. “You never think they won’t accept you until it happens.” At school, it was no better and Erin would go home after the constant bullying and question whether she should carry on. She credits the friends she did have for seeing her through her darkest moments, which included three suicide attempts.
Domi: hard to feel normal
By contrast, Domi had a positive experience when she came out, saying she had “a lot of support” from her peer group at school. One thing she does note, however, is that it’s hard to feel like you’re normal when “other people [are] constantly mentioning, ‘What’s it like to be gay?’”
Marco: real world just as scary
“I was terrified – I just felt so intimidated and alone”. That’s how Marco, who now goes by the name Margot, described what it was like coming out. The barbs at school were one thing, but it can be even worse in the real world. “When you hear politicians and celebrities in abhorrence at same-sex attracted people it’s really scary. They’ve never met me and they despise me.”
Michael: school’s inaction led to self-harm
As a result of the lack of support Michael received from his school when threatening letters were left for him on a weekly basis, the transgender youth turned to self-harm. Matters weren’t helped when a legal studies class on same-sex marriage resulted in homophobic comments about it “being unnatural”. Michael says, “It does feel like a big deal when you’re the one they’re talking about.”
Harry: gays banned at his school
The school Harry went to, which he describes as “quite a religious school”, took lack of support to a whole new level. One teacher put posters up showing a picture of two men holding hands with a big cross through it. That environment made it impossible for Harry to come out at school and he says he didn’t consider himself normal until he attended a same-sex formal and realised there were other people “just like me”.
Nick: teachers laughed when he was bullied
Nick did come out at school and lost his best friend. “We went from talking every day to like I didn’t exist,” he recalls. When he was later picked on by other students, Nick was the one who wound up being disciplined for standing up for himself. Worse still, the aspiring psychologist saw teachers laughing at the heckles he received.
Gordo: other kids spat at him
While Gordo’s family were “fine” when he came out, school was another story. “It was genuinely terrifying to be there. People used to spit on me when I walked to class.” The former dux gave up on anything to do with school, and his grades plummeted. It wasn’t until he met other same-sex attracted teens who he felt “had it worse” that he was reinspired to commit himself to schoolwork.
Madeleine: became introverted
Rather than fight back against people who picked on her, Madeleine “figured it was safest for me to stay in my little corner”. And there she remained until she discovered LGBTI youth group Minus18. After never feeling valued at school, Madeleine thrived once she “realised that I wasn’t alone”. She now wants to be a teacher and help other kids like her.
Steph: changed by love
Unable to attend her own debutante ball in Albury with a female partner, Steph has seen change happen even in her own relatively short lifetime. Three years after Steph left school, a female student was allowed to take her female partner. Falling in love allowed Steph to be a “completely different person than how I am at school”.
Edward: on his own
“Being ostracised was what I was used to.” That’s how Edward described his high school experience, even though he states that his teachers were quite supportive. He attended his school formal with a male partner, however the couple and Edward’s best friend sat alone on their own table.
Jules: life cut short
Jules also found support from teachers at his school. One “shut down” a student who was “mouthing off about gay marriage and gays in general. It was really empowering and it actually shut him up forever.” At home, Jules had a mixed experience coming out but became actively involved in organising events at Minus18. Tragically, Jules took his own life in October 2014 at age 19.
Watch Love in Full Colour here: