Sexual health and alcohol & drugs safety tips

-> By ACON

HIV and STIs

SEX, partying and having a great time at Mardi Gras go together like sequins, heels and leather. We all want to make the most of the party season, so here are a few things to keep in mind to help plan your Mardi Gras festival:

• Condoms remain the most effective barrier to HIV transmission and most sexually-transmissible infections (STIs)

• Keep a supply of condoms and water based lube at home or grab a safe sex pack to keep with you

• ACON Tradies and Claudes will be at many of the parties handing out safe sex and play packs and there are often safe pack bins located near the entrance of each event

• STIs can be a bore but the good news is that if you use a condom when you have sex you can significantly reduce the risk of picking them up or passing them on

• Remember, someone can have an STI and show no symptoms but still pass it on to someone else 

• If you have been busy over the party season there are a range of places to get a sexual health check-up, including your local GP, sexual health clinics or ACON’s a[TEST] services. For details visit www.endinghiv.org.au

• If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a month-long course of HIV drugs that can prevent a transmission occurring. You need to take it very soon after the incident — and definitely within 72 hours Call the 24-hour PEP Hotline 1800 737 669. For details visit www.knowtherisk.org.au

• If you ended up partying harder than you intended, ACON and other organisations have support and programs related to sexual health, alcohol and other drugs and counselling available. For details visit www.acon.org.au

Alcohol and drugs

FOR many of us Mardi Gras is the most exciting time of year — it’s a time of fun, celebration, reflection and parties all around celebrating everything LGBTI. To help you last the distance both on and off the dance floor this Mardi Gras season, here’s a list of survival tips:

• Dance. Rest. Rehydrate. Repeat. If you’re dehydrated, your body can’t sweat. Sweating is the main way to cool down your body temperature and prevent serious harm. Get the picture?

• Know your drug. Know your dose. As drug purity and potency varies so much, you need to treat every dose as a new batch. Try a small amount first and test your reaction before taking more 

• Never use alone — sharing your high with others is a lot safer. Make sure someone knows what you’ve had in case sh*t gets real and you find yourself in the arms of an ACON Rover

• Water. Alcohol. Water. If you’re drinking all night, change the tempo by alternating your alcoholic drink with a thirst quenching, and possibly life-saving, glass of water

• Careful what you mix and make sure you’re well-informed. This is a simple but effective way to reduce harm. Drugs — prescriptions or otherwise — can have dangerous interactions with other drugs

• Don’t miss your meds. If you’re on prescribed meds, make sure you don’t miss your dose. Set an alarm. If you need to take it with a meal, a simple banana can help your meds go down (and keep them down)

• Be sun smart. Melanoma has never been a fashion accessory no matter how cool you are

• Plan for safe, hot sex. To make it even easier for you, ACON safe sex packs will be available at all events throughout Mardi Gras

• “It’s not you, it’s me”: Redefining your boundaries or questioning the longevity of your 10-year relationship is not a good idea when you’re trashed

• Plan your recovery. When the lights come on and the music stops you may find yourself feeling like a shadow of your former self. Stock your fridge, replenish your fluids, get some sleep and remind yourself: “My life isn’t bad, but my comedown is.”

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Police powers and searches

-> By Inner City Legal Centre

IN order for the police to carry out their functions and to play the important role of investigation and law enforcement in our society, the parliament has given them certain powers to ensure compliance with the law.

The law is called the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW). This law states that a police officer may, without a warrant, stop, search and detain you, if they reasonably suspect that you have in your possession (among other things), a prohibited plant or drug.

In order to search you the police must have a “reasonable basis” for their suspicion. Some important points about searches are set out below:

• It’s best to be as cooperative and courteous as you can in talking with police, but you are not obliged to reveal any information to them other than your name and address

• When proposing to search you the officer is required to give you their name and place of duty, and tell you why they are going to search you

• A frisk or ordinary search may involve being asked to remove some item of outer clothing. The police must tell you why you should be required to do so

• If police think you may have something in your mouth or hair they may ask you to open your mouth or move or shake your hair. They must not forcibly open your mouth

• The police will ask for your cooperation during a search and they must search in the quickest and least-invasive way possible, ensuring reasonable privacy

• The police may not search you and question you at the same time. Where reasonably practicable the search should be carried out by an officer of the same gender as you

• A strip search can’t be performed unless it is necessary and in serious and urgent cases. In a strip search the police must not touch you and must ensure your reasonable privacy. You can ask for a support person to be present. They must not touch your genital area and, if you are female, they must not touch your breasts

• If the police find drugs on you they may issue you with a caution, may give you a Court Attendance Notice or you might be arrested

• You should calmly cooperate with police conducting a search. You minimise the risk of escalating the situation to a possible charge of resisting or hindering police. You can always seek legal advice about making a police complaint later

Disclaimer: This information is only intended as a guide to the law and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. If you have further questions, seek legal advice. This information also only applies to people who live in, or are affected by, the law as it applies in NSW

The Inner City Legal Centre (ICLC) is a community legal centre that provides free legal services to people facing barriers to access to justice. For details visit www.iclc.org.au

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Safety tips on Sydney streets and public transport

-> By NSW Police

SYDNEY is a welcoming and friendly city, but it is important to take a few measures in order to keep yourselves and your friends safe. Always seek help if you are feeling unsafe or unsure of your surroundings.

There are a number of personal safety tips and measures you can take to stay safe while walking the streets or travelling on trains and buses. There are also things you can do to keep safe during and after major events such as the Mardi Gras Parade. If you do become a victim of violence, please seek assistance and report to the police.

Tell someone where you are going and who you are with

Walk and travel in groups. Stick to major routes and roads — don’t take short cuts, but use footpaths that are well-lit and not closed in by bushes and obstacles, and make sure you check both directions before stepping off the footpath

Keep your valuables out of sight or where you can see and reach them, especially mobile phones and wallets

If you are intoxicated when you leave a venue, take care on the footpath and roads and watch out for each other

Change direction if you think you are being followed and seek a safe place

When on trains, travel in the guard’s compartment identified by a blue light or in carriages with groups of people who could assist if needed

Arrive at the train station as close as possible to the train departure time and stand where the station is well-lit

If you are walking back to your car, keep your keys in your hand as you approach your car in readiness

Arrive to an event in a group or arrange to meet at a designated place and stay close to your group to ensure you are not alone for long periods. This reduces the appearance of vulnerability — offenders target people who appear vulnerable

Act with confidence, and be clear and definite in your responses to any inappropriate suggestions. Most offenders hope to avoid confrontation or being caught and choose targets they perceive are vulnerable

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Keeping it Together during Mardi Gras: A mental health guide

-> By QLife

MARDI Gras is the season for fun and festivity and celebration in who we are, but sometimes it’s also the season for overdoing it.

While you’re in the middle of party season, don’t forget that if things go wrong there are people to talk to, and that you can be a key part in helping your friends stay okay, too.

Taking care of your mental health is just as important as looking good during Mardi Gras season. If you’re overwhelmed by it all, feeling down, or worried about a friend, services like QLIfe can help you talk it out.

Do what you need to look after yourself — whatever that may be for you. Sometimes this is not pushing as hard as your mates to keep the party going, or stepping out of the noise and chaos for half an hour to get your thoughts together. You’re the expert at what you need

Don’t let your regular habits of staying well slip during the season. Keep taking your meds, your yoga class, walking your pooch or whatever you normally do

Stay hydrated and remember to eat

If sleep is at a minimum, try to make sure you’ve built in catch-up time soon afterwards

Don’t be afraid to ask your friends if they are doing okay — sometimes people don’t know how to ask for help

Remember that Mardi Gras is all about community and empathy with other people in our LGBTI community

Be nice to people you encounter out and about, and try and leave your judgement at home. Positivity is the best energy during Mardi Gras

If you need to ask for help, don’t be afraid to do so. QLife is up and active all through Mardi Gras, and sometimes talking to someone outside of the situation can help bring clarity

QLife is Australia’s national help service for LGBTI people, their families and friends. Visit QLife.org.au or call 1800 184 527

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You’re under arrest… what now?

-> By David Newham

THE police are present to ensure you enjoy Mardi Gras safely. While also targeting anti-social behaviour, the use of police drug detection dogs is frequent practice. This is a guide to assist you or someone you know in the event of arrest.

Arrest means you are no longer free to come or go as you please. The police can arrest upon suspicion and use reasonable force to do so. They must inform you that you are under arrest and why.

You should be given an “official caution”, explaining you are under no obligation to say or do anything and that anything you say or do may be used against you in legal proceedings. This is a crucial moment where you must understand your entitlements.

Co-operate. Do not use offensive words, resist or assault the police in any way, regardless of how aggrieved you may feel. This conduct could result in further charges against you.

In custody at a police facility, you may contact a lawyer to seek advice. Use this opportunity to obtain immediate help.

Provide the police with your name and address. They will ask you questions concerning your well-being while in their care to facilitate your time in custody.

You may be offered the opportunity to be interviewed, either by video, in handwritten or typed format or by hand-held voice tape recorder. In most cases, you should decline. You are under no obligation whatsoever to participate in any interview.

You will either be charged or what is more common, be issued with a Court Attendance Notice. This is a small piece of paper informing you of the court and date you are required to attend. This date is usually 21 days from the time of arrest.

A determination will be made whether you will be freed on bail unconditionally or with conditions you must strictly adhere to. You may also be refused bail to appear before a magistrate at the first practical chance. If you are refused bail, you should seek legal advice immediately.

Now, put all that aside and have a Happy Mardi Gras.

David Newham is the Principal at David Newham — Criminal Lawyer. For details call 0422 38 77 25

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Take action if blues take over during and after the celebration ends

-> By beyondblue

beyondblue chief executive Georgie Harman says Mardi Gras is an important celebration of diversity, rights and acceptance.

“The laughter, pride and joy we feel during the Sydney Mardi Gras are in direct contrast to the ongoing discrimination and prejudice that too many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people still face every day, simply for being who they are,” she says.

“Everyone should be aware, especially when they are partying this week, that discrimination and ignorant attitudes contribute to higher levels of psychological distress and suicide among LGBTI people.

“Lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians are three times more likely to be currently experiencing depression than people in the general community and are twice as likely to be experiencing anxiety. They are also three times more likely to try to take their own lives.

“Through our involvement in the Sydney Mardi Gras, we hope to reinforce that homophobia, like any form of discrimination, is never okay. No one should be made to feel like crap, just for being who they are.

“We’d also like our presence to serve as a reminder that beyondblue is working with LGBTI communities to improve their mental health, and our Support Service is available 24/7 for anyone who feels they may be struggling or is worried about someone else.”

During the Mardi Gras Parade highlights show on SBS One from 8.30pm on Sunday March 8, there will be a TV commercial from beyondblue’s Take Action Before the Blues Take Over campaign, which has been running online throughout the 2015 pride festival season via web banners on LGBTI sites.

Harman says the campaign, which features a rainbow flag, aims to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety among LGBTI people, and empower them to develop an action plan if they recognise they are struggling – go to www.beyondblue.org.au/pride

“Being aware of the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety makes it easier for people to recognise if things just don’t seem right and if they need to seek support early to get their lives back on track,” Harman says.

“I’d encourage everyone to check out the information on the beyondblue website. This includes resources designed specifically for LGBTI people and their families with inspirational stories and tools, like the multimedia guide Families Like Mine for the families of young LGBTI people.”

Trained mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the beyondblue Support Service by calling 1300 22 4636, or online at www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support for web chat (3pm-12midnight) or email responses within 24 hours.”

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