with PAUL MARTIN QAHC Executive Director
Mainstreaming Should LGBT people be treated as a distinct group with our own needs and interests or should we just blend in to the general community? For an LGBT community organisation such as Healthy Communities, this is a key question.
We want LGBT people to be able to participate fully in the life of communities, free from stigma and discrimination. We are all part of many communities where we live, work and play. For most of us, we don’t live our lives only (or even mostly) in the LGBT community.
Some would say that the goal of gay liberation (later LGBT rights) was to ensure we are treated equally, without stigma and discrimination and have the same opportunities as anyone else. Once this is achieved, there will be no need for LGBT organisations, business and media, because we will be able to be who we are wherever we are, the same as anyone else.
Others would say that gay liberation was about recognising and celebrating our differences as a community and being accepted and treated with respect. So do we want to blend in to the wider community or do we want to be accepted on our own terms? What does this mean for LGBT community organisations?
As we know, LGBT people suffer higher rates of mental ill-health, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, homelessness, cancer risks (especially among lesbians) and poorer sexual health (especially among gay men). If mainstream services were working well enough for us, would we still see this disparity in health between LGBT people and the wider community?
We need LGBT specific services, acting as catalysts and centres of excellence to support and work alongside mainstream services to be LGBT inclusive. But at times we also need and want an LGBT specific service which adds value to the mainstream and provides a peer service. There are some things only other LGBT people can understand or we feel more comfortable talking to an LGBT person about (e.g. coming out, sex, relationships).
As for blending in, Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal in her poem ‘Assimilation – No!’ put it like this: “Pour your pitcher of wine into the wider river And where is your wine? There is only the river.”