Violence at beats in Wollongong has increased concern for the well-being of underage gays and lesbians who are using them as an area for social gatherings.

ACON’s Illawarra branch has started a dedicated under-18s group for those who currently have few gay social outlets that are legal and safe.

If you’re out in Wollongong you tend to be really out, which results in quite a thriving beat culture, ACON’s local education and community development officer Trevor Slattery said.

Some of the kids who are too young to get into clubs will use them as social meeting points, not just as a way to pick up. Some of them are beat users and some just go because their friends go.

But that’s where a lot of the violence is occurring.

As a result, teaching personal safety at beats has become more of an issue in these regional areas than ACON’s Sydney-based youth workshops, which no longer discuss beat issues.

We don’t encourage them to go to the beats, but we can’t run youth groups every night of the week because its just not feasible, Slattery said.

However, it still isn’t clear if youth groups are what underage gay and lesbian people in regional areas are seeking.

For example, we have a youth group in Nowra but it’s really difficult to get many to come as the culture is quite closeted, Slattery said.

Many choose to visit Sydney where they can explore gay life anonymously, he said, or connect online.

People are going online to connect with the community initially and then they’re actually meeting up and going out and socialising at beats, Slattery added.

ACON’s Illawarra branch has free internet, which has proved a popular reason for coming to the office.

It’s more private than going to an Internet caf?r using shared Internet at home, Slattery said.

And a lot of kids don’t have access at home because of their social situation.

Have your say: Tell us about your violent experience at a regional beat.

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