Sexual and gender diverse youth in Australia are among the most vulnerable and marginalised in the country, yet they’re also leading the way when it comes to promoting visibility and acceptance, thanks to the help of youth-led organisations like Minus18.

Matthew Wade sat down with CEO of Minus18, Micah Scott, to chat about the issues facing queer youth right now and how his young team are helping to tackle them.

How did you get involved in Minus18 and what did it mean to you as a young queer person?

At 16-years-old I promised myself that I would be gay for a while, then turn straight at 21 and after that I’d never speak of it again. I prayed almost every night that these feelings would go away, and was filled with excruciating shame. Then a friend told me about Minus18 and dragged me along to one of the events.

That moment has defined who I am, and moments like it are the drive behind why we transformed Minus18 from an events team into a charity that is accessed by more than 150,000 young people, teachers, and families each year.

Since taking the helm I imagine a lot of young people have expressed to you what Minus18 means to them and how it has helped them.

I spent some time chatting to a 13-year-old boy at one of our events recently about how he was petrified to come out to his tradie dad. After meeting and chatting to other queer teenagers, he was determined that he was going to do it.

A couple of weeks later a muddy ute pulled up and this boy and his tradie dad jump out – with his son covered head to toe in glitter. Watching them hug goodbye and seeing his dad support him to come along to Minus18 is something that’s stuck with me.

Why is representation and diversity so important in the work Minus18 does?

Young people are the first to be silenced and shoved aside in any sort of conversation about them. We’ve all had to endure the anti Safe Schools rubbish that’s been going on over the past 18 months, but nearly no-one stopped to actually ask a young queer person what their experience was like, or what support they needed.

Young people are so switched on and fighting to have their voice and experiences listened to.

Are young people leading the way when it comes to LGBTI acceptance and inclusion?

Without a doubt. Think about it – this generation of young people have grown up in a world where LGBTI characters have always been on their TV, and a reasonably visible part of their life. They’re connected pretty strongly online which is amazing.

But the flip side is that young people are exploring their sexuality and gender more openly and the rate of homophobic and transphobic bullying at places like school is staying mostly the same. It’s bittersweet, but highlights how much more work there is to do.

What’s an issue Minus18 is currently fighting for, and why?

Our main focus is trying to profile as many young people as possible and let them talk about the issues they’re experiencing. Some queer young people simply want a space where they can be themselves and meet other teens like them. For some trans young people it’s as simple as having their name and pronoun recognised by their school. For others it’s having access to hormones when they’re underage (currently anyone under 18 has to go through the family court to get approval).

With Safe Schools funding being cut from various states around the country, does this make Minus18’s role more important than ever?

Safe Schools has been such a critical program, and the void that’s been left is felt all over the country. We’ve been working overtime to respond to requests for support and to try keep the momentum going.

As a result we’ve launched LGBTI workshops and training where our team can come into your school or workplace, and guide everyone through the basics of sexualiy and gender. It’s pretty awesome, especially as they’re delivered by queer and trans young people, which means they’re a little bit more fun than your regular training session.

What’s on Minus18’s agenda in the coming months?

In October this year we’re celebrating our 18th birthday. Can you believe that? We’re redeveloping our online platform that hosts our videos and support articles which accessed by more than 150,000 people each year, and working to drive the growth of our new training and workshop packages.

Oh – and we’re also fundraising to grow our events and take them to all parts of Australia. A Queer Formal in Sydney is honestly the dream. To do all that we need support; we’re so lucky in Melbourne, but we want to take this beautiful community we’ve created to every single young person in the country.

To support or donate: www.minus18.org.au/donate.

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