Friends of Dorothy – Part 1: Not Victims But Allies

 

LGBT anti-homophobia educator Daniel Witthaus says accusations of ‘playing the victim card’ are misplaced: “If young LGBT people in every nook and cranny of the country are victims, they certainly aren’t doing a good job of showing it.”

“I’m sorry but it just really annoys me that they play the victim card…I’m not a victim…”

To be a victim or not a victim?  That has long been the question.

After working with LGBT young people for over 16 years, I’m well aware of how they are positioned in youth, health and education circles.  Rather than simply seeing that young LGBT folk are vulnerable, helpless and ever on the wrong end of heterosexual nastiness, many LGBT decision makers use this as a deliberate strategy to get the issue onto many an agenda.

And there is no doubt that the evidence backs that up.  The research evidence, such as the Writing Themselves In series (1998, 2004 & 2010), clearly highlights that young LGBT people are on the receiving end of more abuse and harassment than some of them can handle.  It’s important to note that most can and do.

Some ill-informed observers have suggested to me that LGBT young people should just suck it up, quit complaining and get on with it, whatever getting on with it really means.  The key question that needs to be asked is: do young LGBT people see themselves as victims, over-exaggerate the negative treatment they receive and lack the ability to get on with it?

As someone who has had the opportunity to ask 100s and 100s of them across Australia in recent years, I’ve noticed something extraordinary: LGBT young people downplay the treatment they receive and are reluctant to dwell on it.  In this sense they couldn’t be more Aussie, shaking it off with their best “she’ll be right, mate” effort.  If young LGBT people in every nook and cranny of the country are victims, they certainly aren’t doing a good job of showing it.

You can forgive those that support these young people for advocating with some urgency.  One youth worker in a small rural town told me:

“Before I started this job I thought that [LGBT young people] did have it better these days because of the role models, the media, the internet…But I find they’ve got it just as hard…I thought it would be easier but they’re still getting kicked out of home, beaten up on the street, harassed at school…”

For new audiences and the largely LGBT-ignorant, statistics and the stories that illustrate them work well in ringing alarm bells and getting some quick attention.  Yet for audiences who are a little less new and LGBT-aware, this eventually starts to feel like LGBT ‘noise’.  Victimhood.

So it is no surprise that the LGBT-aware and not-so-new audiences are asking why we often “seem to be asking other people to do stuff for us”.  Partly this is because it has not been successful in doing it ourselves.  In fact we’ve largely failed.  One could argue that we have had a range of funding wins; however given the research evidence, there is an appalling gap between actual need and adequate resourcing.

Understandably, sometimes out of frustration people can decide to do things themselves.  I should know.  I’ve been accused of doing this many times throughout my LGBT career.

A few years ago, similarly frustrated, I completed the challenging 266-day Beyond ‘That’s So Gay’ national tour of regional, rural and remote Australia.  Driving in my openly gay truck, Bruce (not a bus called Priscilla), I self-funded a strategic project to start new conversations in places where no-one had dared to do this work as openly, like Mt Isa, Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill.

[During his tour, Daniel reported regularly on Doug Pollard’s Freshly Doug show on Joy 94.9fm: links to podcasts below]

Yet it was never about doing it all myself.  It was all about getting mainstream Australia’s attention: are young LGBT people getting ‘A Fair Go’ and are things ‘better these days’?

A major LGBT organisation suggested that a national ‘challenging homophobia’ conference would be a great way to build on the networks I gathered on tour and in my travels since. With an upcoming funding possibility, the organisation wanted to know what I thought.

I started with a few assumptions.  I knew that LGBT organisations, projects and groups are invariably under-resourced, under threat and stretched, with little, if any, capacity to take on any new work. Most would want to, but could not attend a national conference.  I also knew that mainstream and philanthropic organisations can be, and often house, LGBT allies.  These allies rarely get the opportunity to focus specifically on LGBT issues, if at all .

From experience, talks between allies and 
LGBT support workers invariably highlights quick, easy and helpful ways they can work together for the benefit of LGBT (young) people.

Instead of an(other) LGBT conference, I suggested a step before a(nother) conference.  What if we were to hold a gathering of key LGBT stakeholders around the country 
as well as key allies within mainstream and philanthropic organisations?  What if the goal was to look at 
how they could incorporate more LGBT-ness into their existing work and how they all could meaningfully work together, both immediately and in the longer-term?  What if under-resourced key LGBT stakeholders were funded to get to that gathering?

It’s clear that we could be wiser and more strategic in our engagement with our allies, especially those lying dormant in the mainstream giants.  And we need to be.

Whilst in Sydney on tour I had back-to-back interviews with two organisations.  The first was a leading LGBT organisation that, like its peers, was over-capacity and under-resourced.  When asked how many NSW schools they’d worked in, the answer was two schools in twelve months.

The second organisation represented parents committees that make everyday decisions across NSW schools.  The President, “Dorothy”, explained that they were involved with 1900 of New South Wales’ 2200 schools, with regional coordinators and offices, training calendars and had the ear of education decision makers.  She wanted to know how we could work together better.

Rather than taking our bat and ball, going home and resolving to try to do it ourselves, I’d prefer we fill this glaring gap: there has not been a well-coordinated, focused and co-operative effort to engage and work with LGBT, LGBT-friendly and LGBT-supportive people within mainstream and philanthropic organisations.  They’re ready right now, waiting for an invitation.  Who is talking to them?  Do we send an invite or wait for a phone call that might never come?

Dorothy was alerted and alarmed by the evidence of LGBT young people’s experiences in schools, yet she was not looking to dwell on it.  Her focus was how best to partner other organisations to leverage their infrastructure and resources to take significant action.  Dorothy wasn’t looking to “do things for us”, rather she wanted to help “us” do more of what is necessary.

In Part 2 Daniel describes his own experiences working with allies and how we could – and should – work with them in future.

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Daniel drove round Australia on his ‘Beyond That’s So Gay Tour’, aka ‘Challenging Homophobia One Cuppa At A Time’, calling in each week to Doug Pollard’s show on LGBT radio station Joy 94.9 to report on what he discovered. Podcasts are each about 10-15 minutes long.

CLICK A LINK TO DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST

AdelaideAcross the Nullabor , Perth Geraldton Broome Darwin Alice Springs , Alice 2 , Mt Isa , Mt Isa 2 , Cairns Townsville Mackay Brisbane Gold Coast , Gold Coast 2 , Lismore Sydney Newcastle Bathhurst Broken Hill , Broken Hill 2 , Mildura Ballarat Warnambool , and the Final Wrap

Plus an extended interview with Daniel about his life and work (40mins), with a transcript here.

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About the author

Daniel developed the ‘Pride & Prejudice’ educational package, allowing all secondary school teachers to challenge homophobia in their own classrooms. ‘Pride & Prejudice’ became the only educational program in the world to pass rigorous psychological testing; in six weeks it improved student attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. In February 2010, Hawker Brownlow Education launched Daniel’s first book, Beyond ‘That’s So Gay’: Challenging homophobia in Australian schools. Daniel also completed a 38-week national challenging tour of regional and rural Australia, Beyond ‘That’s So Gay’.