Members of the Diploma of Community Services class at Grafton TAFE want to hear from gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender people in the valley. Class members are, front from left, Maree McIntyre, Wendy Hardman and Leonie Saad, and back from left, Margaret Strong (teacher), and Monique McDonald.
Members of the Diploma of Community Services class at Grafton TAFE want to hear from gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender people in the valley. Class members are, front from left, Maree McIntyre, Wendy Hardman and Leonie Saad, and back from left, Margaret Strong (teacher), and Monique McDonald. JoJo Newby

Survey of our closet

IF YOU are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT), are under 25 and live in the Clarence Valley, community service students at Grafton TAFE would love to hear from you.

The diploma students have formed a research group and are conducting a survey on the often isolated GLBT population.

Responding to data suggesting GLBT people were up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide and perform acts of self-harm compared to heterosexuals, the group is trying to lay foundations for an effective support network in the Valley.

The group, Monique McDonald, Wendy Hardman, Leonie Saard, Maree McIntyre and Jody O'Conner, has been asked by their teacher, Margaret Strong, to study a disadvantaged group and identify its needs.

"In the last couple of years we have seen in the media or the general community that young people who have identified themselves as GLBT have been victims of homophobic behaviours," said Monique.

"In the country sometimes they can be ousted by their own families."

Maree said young GLBTs were made to feel even more isolated than their metropolitan counterparts. "There's not as many places to hide in a country town," she said.

Though no names were mentioned, the group spoke of several people within their social circles who were forced to leave the Clarence Valley because of the bullying and victimisation they faced as a gay person.

To add insult to injury, support services on the ground were all but non-existent, the group said.

This is where the real-world application of the students' project comes in.

Data from the survey will be available for services to use in grant applications and for government departments to use in service allocation.

Teacher Margaret Strong said very little was known about the Valley's GLBT population and the "rough guesstimate" of 2000 members was based on a national guideline that GLBT represented 4% of the population.

"There is no provision in the Census form to identify sexuality," she said.

Data from a trial survey the students did in Lismore was frightening. Of the 12 GLBT people surveyed, 11 had contemplated suicide.

The final survey comprises 16 questions covering health, education, homophobia and social support, and the survey period closes on November 1.

The anonymous surveys can be accessed online or hard copies can be obtained at the TAFE administration offices in Grafton or Maclean.

GLBT people seeking help with mental health issues can contact ACON (AIDS Council of NSW) on 1800 633 637 or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.


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