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canberra pride feature

Building agency for Canberra’s LGBTIQ community

Philippa Moss

Philippa Moss explores the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of Canberra’s relationship with it’s LGBTIQ population and what we can do to improve it.

The good

I’ve often thought to myself how wonderful it is to be part of Canberra’s gay community. Our capital city is home to people from all walks of life – public servants, business owners, retirees, journalists, students, politicians, diplomats – who also happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LBGTIQ).

And I’m not the only one paying attention to this. The Australian Census has compiled statistics on same-sex couple households throughout Australia since 1996 (as de facto partners). In the 2011 Census demographic information was actually broken down, for the first time, into our population’s sexual orientation. A new classification was introduced that year, which made it easier for same-sex couples to report themselves as a “husband, wife or de facto partner”.

This interesting and important change allowed for the fact that some couples had been married in a jurisdiction other than Australia, had registered their relationship under state/territory law in Australia, had held a ceremony of their own, regarded themselves as “married” or simply considered their partner as a “husband” or “wife”.

The data that year revealed that the capital cities of Canberra and Sydney had the highest rate of same-sex couples (for both male and female couples) in Australia. The ACT, consistent with its predominantly urban character and highly educated population, also had the highest rates of both male and female same-sex couples of any state or territory in Australia. If we take into account those who identified as committed same-sex couples, together with Canberra’s single, non-committed, polyamorous LGBTIQ community, I think I can say Canberra has perhaps the highest LGBTIQ population per capita in Australia. But don’t quote me on that!

Despite these positive statistics and the pride Canberrans take in the local culture of our bush capital, it is not always utopia for the LGBTIQ community.

The bad

There is an unfortunate level of discrimination, homophobia and transphobia playing out in our local community, as is evident in social media discussion and the absence of a progressive, enlightened public debate.

This is referred to by the medical and psychological community as ‘lateral violence’, where covert or overt acts of verbal or non-verbal aggression manifest themselves as bullying in social, work and study environments. Typified as psychological abuse, this relational aggression has a very real impact on its victims – particularly those who already feel vulnerable and disenfranchised for being young and identifying with the LGBTIQ community. These are members of our community who should feel safe and protected in their place of work, study or relaxation.

The ugly

I am sorry to say that this local experience is reflected at the federal level, where the proposed plebiscite for marriage equality and a needless review of the nationally successful Safe Schools program has resulted in a calculated division of opinion.

Despite being an intelligent, educated nation, at a local level the key agencies and individuals funded to deliver support services experience vexatious and meaningless attacks. This only prevents them from fulfilling their mandate to develop genuine health outcomes, build community capacity and embrace inclusion. Beyond these supportive communities, LGBTIQ people still experience daily discrimination and social stigma.

This can often result in negative consequences for the LGBTIQ community, including acute health conditions such as anxiety, depression, social isolation and violence. They are also less likely to seek assistance at mainstream health services.

Support from within, Canberra-style

The upshot is that as a wider community, we need to support one another, otherwise we do real harm to the physical and psychological health of our general population. A lack of support for the LGBTIQ people of our city and nation results in exclusion, hatred, anger and violence.

Here in Canberra, I’ve been inspired by encouraging examples of compassion, kindness, pragmatic policy and genuine leadership. I’m encouraged by those who acknowledge the common shared needs for all citizens and how this plays out in different ways for LGBTIQ Canberrans, so that there is diversity within, a shared set of needs across the whole community and space somewhere in between.

Most recently, this has been illustrated by the establishment of a community consortium of agencies – two LGBTIQ and two mainstream – that now provide an important window of hope for LGBTIQ people and communities in Canberra.

In late 2015, the ACT Government provided funding for this consortium to work co-operatively towards improving the health of the LGBTIQ community. Our own Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, has lead the way with his progressive views on marriage equality and active support for equity in both the public and private sphere.

This newly developed LGBTIQ CBR Community Consortium (yes, quite a mouthful) includes an amazing group of organisations that are working together to achieve real health outcomes for the LGBTIQ Community. As the culmination of a robust and inclusive partnership, the consortium demonstrates our ability to effectively work together and build a solid foundation that will support LGBTIQ communities into the future.

The four agencies involved in the LGBTIQ CBR Community Consortium are the AIDS Action Council, A Gender Agenda, Northside Community Service and Sexual Health Family Planning ACT. Our objective is to encourage resilience and build on the existing strengths and resources of these agencies by developing a comprehensive suite of programs that engage government, business and community support.

The consortium will no doubt benefit from the long-term experience of staff, supporters and volunteers who have learnt throughout their years in Canberra that when you advocate for human rights, inclusion and equity, quality health and social outcomes follow.


Philippa Moss

Philippa Moss is a HIV activist, professional feminist and best known for her outspoken voice promoting healthy public policy and healthy urban development. Philippa has been a happy resident of Canberra for the past 17 years. Originally from Sydney, she came to Canberra at a pivotal stage in her life. She is a proud mother of two children, a son and daughter in their teens/twenties, who as a Queer parent has always felt a part of Canberra’s greater Lesbian, Gay and Queer community. She was recently appointed the Executive Director of the AIDS Action Council (ACT), after acting in the role for the past two years. In 2015 she was awarded the ACT Telstra Business Women’s Award for Purpose and Social Enterprise, along with the Australian Institute of Management’s Not for Profit Manager of the Year (ACT) award. More about the Author

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