GROWING up same-sex attracted, intersex or gender diverse is tough. It’s something we all know. I know it from the evidence, hearing young people’s experiences and many of you reading this will know it from your own experience.

We also know that attitudes in society are changing. Things are slowly improving and it’s sometimes easy to be complacent that this improvement is translating to a positive experience for LGBTIQ young people.

Unfortunately the statistics tell a different story. To mark National Youth Week I want to highlight the current reality for young people and encourage you all to take action.

Same-sex attracted young people are six times more likely to attempt suicide. Six times. That is truly astonishing and we must all play a part in trying to eliminate the incidence of suicide in the community.

headspace is here for all young people going through a tough time. We support 12-25 year olds and their families through a national network of over 80 centres and an online and telephone counselling service, eheadspace. Whether they’re feeling down, having relationship trouble, can’t find a job or struggling with an alcohol or drug issue – headspace can help.

I’m proud of the services we provide and how we’re able to assist LGBTIQ young people on what can be a tricky journey through adolescence.

We’ve put a lot of time and effort into making headspace a welcoming service and our latest numbers of LGBTIQ young people walking into centres show some very interesting results.

Inner-city centres such as Camperdown in Sydney and Collingwood in Melbourne had the highest percentage of LGBTIQ clients: 24 and 23 per cent. Also, there were consistently high numbers in the outer suburbs of major cities and regional areas.

Chris Tanti is the CEO of headspace.

Chris Tanti is the CEO of headspace.

For example, the Sydney suburbs of Penrith and Parramatta saw 18 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. Rockhampton in regional Queensland saw 18 per cent, Bendigo in regional Victoria was at 19 per cent, Murray Bridge in South Australia at 14 per cent, while Frankston in outer Melbourne 15 per cent.

This says to me that these services are needed and, importantly, there are LGBTIQ young people who feel safe in our centres.

It’s pleasing to know we can provide support to young people when things are too tough to handle alone – and that young people are seeking help – but we need to focus on prevention.

At headspace we do that by being proactive in our stance for LGBTIQ equality. We have submitted pro-marriage equality submissions to Senate hearings, been vocal in the media, taken part in almost every pride festival across the country and our local centres run groups to bring together LGBTIQ young people in their community to avoid social isolation, provide peer support and build skills and self-esteem.

Another key area for improvement is in schools. We have an excellent federal-funded School Support program that assists schools after a suicide and equips them with the tools they need to help students. A key message of this program is not to ignore homophobia and transphobia.

Casual homophobic language can also chip away at young people until there is nothing left. It cannot be ignored and it is not a normal part of growing up.

I think schools have an incredibly important role to play in making their environments safe to all young people. We are doing what we can to assist with this and other organisations, such as The Safe Schools Coalition, are doing remarkable work in this area.

But Australia is a big place, with a lot of schools.

You can help.

This National Youth Week, think about contacting your old school, your local school or your kids’ school and ask them if they know about headspace or an organisation like the Safe Schools Coalition. Ask them if they have an anti-bullying policy and if it specifically includes homophobic and transphobic bullying. Look at great organisations like Minus18, Wear It Purple, Open Doors and Twenty10 and find out how you can support them.

These are just some small steps you can take. But with individual and organisational action, we can together create wider change to make things better for all young people.

Chris Tanti is the CEO of headspace:

National Youth Week takes place April 10-19


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