'Harmful' election debates seriously risk LGBTIQ+ mental health, groups warn

Meridian CEO Philippa Moss is one of a number of LGBTIQ+ service providers concerned by the impact of the Prime Minister's recent comments. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Meridian CEO Philippa Moss is one of a number of LGBTIQ+ service providers concerned by the impact of the Prime Minister's recent comments. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Sexuality and gender identity-based service groups are concerned "harmful" debates among the country's top leaders over trans rights and religious discrimination will further deteriorate the mental health of the vulnerable community.

Peak organisations have warned recent comments by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and some of his party's candidates could lead to higher rates of suicide ideation and attempts.

It comes as Mr Morrison has stood by a hand-picked controversial candidate in the spotlight for offensive remarks about trans Australians.

The Prime Minister doubled down on his support for the Liberal Warringah candidate, Katherine Deves, again on Tuesday after she walked back an earlier apology for insensitive comments made about gender-affirming surgery.

Philippa Moss, chief executive of peer-led services group Meridian, said the ongoing debate about people's humanity was so hurtful and harmful to those with lived experiences.

Mr Morrison on Thursday announced $45.6 million in additional funding to expand mental health services in Tasmania, adding the COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted their importance more than ever.

But the peak health organisation for Australians from diverse sexuality and gender identities, LGBTIQ+ Health, is worried additional funding will do little to stop poor mental health outcomes for the community.

The CEO of LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, Nicky Bath, said the comments from senior politicians, and the media headlines that resulted from them, added to the stress of an already marginalised community.

"It contributes to the ongoing minority stress that LGBTIQ+ people live with every day," Ms Bath said.

"The mental health and suicide ideation, and attempts, will absolutely increase as a result of the public attention coming from the election campaign.

"It's very difficult when we see politicians and campaigns leading conversations that are so harmful."

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Liberal Bass MP Bridget Archer, who crossed the floor earlier this year against Mr Morrison's wishes, appeared alongside the Prime Minister on the campaign trail on Thursday.

She was asked about Ms Deves' comments in light of the mental health announcement, telling journalists people be treated with respect.

"When we're talking about people, whoever they might be, we should seek to do that in a way that is respectful and is not damaging to people's mental health," Ms Archer said

The Prime Minister's renewed promise to bring back a push for religious protections - which would allow faith-based schools to hire staff and accept students in line with their faith - has added more fuel to the fire.

Mr Morrison declared there was "no evidence" gay and lesbian students were being expelled, or discriminated against, in religious schools, citing assurances from religious leaders he had spoken to.

Scott Morrison after doing a live cross to the ABC at Coolangatta Estate winery near Shoalhaven Heads. Picture: James Croucher

Scott Morrison after doing a live cross to the ABC at Coolangatta Estate winery near Shoalhaven Heads. Picture: James Croucher

Ms Moss rejected the Prime Minister's claim, adding most community members often spoke of daily stigma and discrimination they had faced.

"We are told every day from our clients and our community, about their experiences of discrimination, and that includes at school and in workplaces," she said.

Ms Bath added it made little sense for support and advocacy groups to fiercely contest an issue that had "no evidence" as Mr Morrison suggested.

"If it wasn't an issue, we wouldn't make it an issue," she said.

"We're not here to make issues of things that aren't real. We're here to challenge policies and legislation that cause harm to LGBTIQ+ plus people."

The additional funding for mental health services is a welcome addition for many and will provide new headspace centres and services for older adults.

But Ms Moss said it was small organisations, like Meridian and A Gender Agenda, that provided specialised support services for those facing the additional barrier of stigma.

She said Mr Morrison's commitment to delivering improved mental health outcomes also needed to target vulnerable, at-risk communities, including LGBTIQ+ groups.

"When someone walks through our door, they know they will be greeted by somebody who understands them and this is often a peer," she said.

"We're set up to support the trans and gender diverse communities but the funding doesn't flow to us."

The latest fact sheet from LGBTIQ+ Health shows a quarter of young people aged 16 to 17 from the community had attempted suicide in their lifetime.

The rate is five-times more likely than that of the general population.

For trans Australians aged between 14 and 25, the rate skyrockets to being 15-times more likely.

Ms Bath said no one should have to face discrimination and stigma, and the country's top officials had a responsibility as conversation leaders.

"We must protect our young people, because they're the future and we don't want them to have the mental health and suicide burden that we're seeing currently within the community," she said.

"We've got an opportunity to stop it."

  • Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732.
This story Mental health concerns over PM's 'harmful' comments: LGBTIQ+ groups first appeared on The Canberra Times.