Rural youth have called on the Victorian Government to get tougher on anti-discrimination messages at Government-funded youth events.
A report to be released by OUTthere Rural Victorian Youth Council for Sexual Diversity, puts forward seven recommendations to the Office for Youth to stop young people feeling unsafe at youth FReeZA events.

“What we want to do with the report is highlight the very good work that is being done on a voluntary basis as a lead to encourage other groups to follow,” project coordinator Sue Hackney told Southern Star.

“What’s still upsetting is the way in which discrimination of any type is still occurring at events on a regular basis.”

The key recommendation calls for FReeZA bands to sign a contract that no homophobic or other discriminatory language will be used.
Hackney said she would like the Office for Youth to establish boundaries so all participants understand homophobia is not welcome at FReeZa events.

“I think [the Office of Youth] needs to deal with it in a firmer way. The Government has already set its minimum standards in terms of conduct with Victorian equal opportunity legislation and if organisations want to reap the benefit of financial Government assistance, it’s a two-way street.

“They need to meet minimum standards which the Government has set.”

On the whole, Hackney said FReeZA events have worked well with regional GLBTI youth groups, however, some areas still have a long way to go.
Warnambool gay-straight alliance group YUMCHA has recently experienced problems getting the Warrnambool Youth Council to agree to include signage explicitly stating homophobia will not be tolerated at FReeZA events.

The report also tells the story of a Morwell FReeZA event where a teenager was dancing with her same-sex partner when the DJ put a spotlight on the pair and said over the microphone, “Look, everyone, lesbians”.

Other young people attending the event then took pictures on their phones.

Hackney said it’s this behaviour that needs to be ruled out so FreeZA events are welcoming for all.

“It’s much easier to enforce a policy when people understand what it is,” she said.

“The community needs support to be reminded of this, and hopefully, after a while, they won’t need  such reminders.”

The OUTthere RuralYouth Council is a gay-straight alliance of people aged 16-25 years and is supported by the WayOut rural youth project.

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