IT is no secret that most LGBTI-identifying students not only face uncertainties and anxieties about their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, but also face additional stress on how this may impact their future career. This stress can be a significant barrier for young people striving to reach their full potential at university and in the workplace. Those students looking to pursue careers in traditionally conservative industries, where out role models are seemingly few and far between, face the temptation to remain in the closet — not just at work, but to family and friends.
Out for Australia’s own research conducted in April this year found that 49 per cent of LGBTI employees had actively hidden or avoided disclosure of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation in the last 12 months, and 39 per cent of LGBTI professionals had experienced or witnessed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
[showads ad=MREC]It goes without saying that this culture is unacceptable, and it underscores the important need for long-term cultural and organisational change in our workplaces and universities.
In my second year of university while I was the Queer Officer of at the University of Sydney’s law society, I was approached by a few graduates to help establish a mentoring program to pair up LGBTI university students and professionals from a range of different industries. The value of this program would be enriched by regular networking events, bringing people together to learn, connect, and share stories. The idea was to provide university students with visible role models and mentors, in order to help assist with the transition into the workplace and to break down barriers.
In late 2013, Out for Sydney launched with its first networking event, attracting a range of like-minded students from multiple universities, with professionals imparting their stories, knowledge and advice. It has proven invaluable to many of these students to have a mentor with similar life experiences, while being surrounded in a supportive and nurturing environment.
In March this year at NSW Parliament House, Out for Sydney officially marked its expansion as it launched as Out for Australia and announced former NSW Governor Dame Marie Bashir as its inaugural patron. It has since launched in Victoria and Queensland, with the aim of taking our mentoring program, networking events and women’s program all around Australia.
I look forward to the day when young people in Australia no longer have to worry about how being LGBTI-identifying will impact their career. For many, given the disproportionately high rates of mental illness among young LGBTI people, that day cannot come soon enough.
Matt Yeldham is the CEO of Out for Australia. For find out more and to become part of its mentorship program, visit outforaustralia.org or search for Out for Australia on Facebook and Twitter. Follow Matt on Twitter via @mattyeldham
**This article was first published in the August edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.