Christmas can be Gay, but not Very Merry
By LEONIE MELLOR
This article was published in the "Leader" on December 18, 1996-7
Families’ slicing into roast turkey on Christmas Day is the image that will send some people over the edge this year.
Youth worker Ralph Graham says that while Christmas is a hard time for many people who cannot be with their loved ones, it is particularly hard for homosexuals. Coming to terms with their sexuality and fear of rejection can be too much. The pressure is reflected in homosexual suicide statistics around the festive season.
Ralph estimates the number of gay suicides compared with non-gay suicides increases by about one third around Christmas "I think it increases dramatically because of the sense of loss or the fear of rejection around this time of the year of being part of your family," he says.
Ralph is a foster parent with Family and Community Services and has been a member of support group Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays. "Christmas is a hard time for everybody…the emotions, partners who have lost partners through death and are on their own for Christmas," he says. "But I think the hardest part is a rejection of a member of the family who’s still alive. And one of those aspects is in the gay community."
Last year Ralph received three calls from people attempting suicide in the lead-up to Christmas. All three were young men trying to come to terms with their sexuality. One had the support of his parents, another had not yet told them and the third was not comfortable with being gay, fearing rejection from his parents, family and friends.
Ralph says Christmas is also the time when many people ‘come out’. "It’s very hard on younger ones who haven’t told their parents," Ralph says. "They tend to take alternatives by staying away from home at Christmas time with their friends, not confronting the family with it and therefor living an existence outside the family. For older people who are in relationships it can mean they have to separate from their partner because their families have not accepted their child’s different lifestyle, he says.
Ralph says parents, too need support. "With having gay children they feel a loss, the loss of being a grandparent, of their children getting married," he says. "They go through a guilt that they did something wrong. They need to be told they didn’t do anything wrong. The parents don’t realise the children have a fear of telling them, a fear of being forced out of the family. It’s a major fear, anxiety which, around this time of year, can push people over the edge."
Aids Council general manager Bernie Coates said everyone who worked in the field know the lead-up to Christmas saw an increase in gay suicides but there was no documentation to show exactly how many people were affected during this time.
How a Gay Son Finally came out to his Parents
This article was published in "The Advertiser" on Saturday, December 12, 1998
The Advertiser Web site can be accessed through www.news.com.au
Shirly Hughes clearly remembers the day her son, Shane, told her he was gay. "I fell into a great big hole," she said "It never crossed our mind. He was even engaged at one stage."
Mrs Hughes, who lives at Victor Harbour with husband Graham, said that after the initial shock, there was a sense of relief. He’d had suicide attempts and we didn’t understand why. We questioned ourselves." Mrs Hughes said. "When he said he was gay, it clicked. And we thought if we were accepting maybe it would lessen the threat of suicide. Shane was diagnosed as hyperactive when he was about eight. Out of that he became an over-achiever. He always expected 150 per cent of himself and anything less was never good enough. And he had this discipline problem which can happen with people who have this so consequently at school, if he couldn’t give 150 per cent and if he couldn’t get A-pluses, he used to get very upset with himself. But it was all linked up. He knew from the age of eight that he was gay. What a horrible thing to have to carry around until you’re 22. He knew at eight that because he couldn’t play with girls, he didn’t want to play boy things. He was just in no-mans land. We knew there was something about Shane, but we never ever suspected he was gay."
Mr Hughes agreed, saying it just never occurred to them their son was homosexual. "I knew he had a lot of trouble at school but I couldn’t work it out" he said. "I was tied up with work…I just didn’t have the time to scratch myself let alone listen to his problems. So, consequently, I was at fault in that respect in that I put his troubles on the backburner. When I came home from work that day, Shirley made me a coffee, sat me down, and when she told me I didn’t feel anger, I felt sad. I felt sad that Shane hadn’t come to me too, straight off. But then the greatest feeling was relief to find out what had been bugging him all those years."
The Hugheses said Shane’s admission had "enhanced our lives". They said an Adelaide support group called Parents Supporting Parents – FLAG (friends of lesbians and gays) – had helped them adjust.
"Parents have to look within themselves," Mrs Hughes said. They’ve got…(to) be there for the people who need them most and that’s their children. It’s hard to convince people that they are born gay. People seem to think they do it from choice."
As part of their "learning" experience, the Hugheses began accompanying Shane on "a magical journey" through Adelaide’s gay pubs and clubs. "We had a choice. He didn’t have a choice. We had a choice of either accepting or rejecting," Mrs Hughes said. By accepting, looking into it, meeting up with other people, being given the opportunity to do all of the great things that we’ve done, all I can say to other parents is for God’s sake, wake up to yourselves. There is life after gayness. We haven’t created monsters. We aren’t monsters. We want to be there for our children. You see so many people lose their young ones through suicide and they wonder why. This was why it was all the more important to be there for Shane and be supportive."
Shane Hughes is 25 and happy – but it wasn’t always the case. He recalls his primary school days, when he noticed he was attracted to boys as well as girls. "I didn’t really do anything about it until my early high school days, when I started feeling my way around, if I can put it that way," he said. "I got mixed up from there. I had a hard time of it. Maybe because it was all happening for me and I didn’t have any positive gay role models. The only one I really remember was Mr Humphries from (TV show) Are you being served. I was nothing like that and thought ‘Oh my God, that’s what I’m going to turn into’. I hated high school. I was very much a loner, seen as a weird kid because I was trying desperately to fit in but not knowing how to. One day I had words with one of my high school councillors. I was trying to come out to her I guess, to a certain degree, and told her that I was attracted to my friend even though nothing had happened. Her reply was ‘Don’t even think about it, it’s just not an option. Don’t give it any thought whatsoever.’ So I was back to square one. I couldn’t tell my parents. The only things I’d heard them say about gay people were offensive jokes."
Shane, who now lives in Melbourne, said he got engaged "because I actually fell in love. It was also the right thing to do. Until it got too close to crunch time and I though if I got married then I would be left wondering and certainly wouldn’t be happy. So I pulled out," he said. My mother was the first one I came out to. I just felt at the time that it was the right time to do it. I was worried about how dad would take it. He’s a man’s man so I was really worried that he might tell me to get lost. I asked mum to tell him because I wasn’t brave enough to tackle that one. But he was fine. I was very lucky. I’ve heard stories about people whose parents have basically disowned them and kicked them out of the house. Others have still not come out to their parents even though they’ve come out to everyone else. When I did come out it was like, ‘Okay, where do I fit into the gay community of Adelaide?’ I had this idea that I would be welcomed with open arms but that wasn’t the case. I had a tough time. As soon as I got to Melbourne I felt as though I was home. I feel comfortable here. Adelaide was like a big country town without the country friendliness. There’s more of a gay network over here."
Shane said he was a lot closer to his parents now. My father and I never really talked before. I also talk more to mum and I can talk about boyfriend things with her, which is really cool," he said. Each scenario is different but one word of advice I was given and I think is very important is that if an individual is wanting to come out, make sure they have a good support system of friends to fall back on."
How does the Education Department Assist Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Children in SA Schools?
By FIONA SPROLES
The Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights group have welcomed a raft of Tasmanian Education Department initiatives which will make the state’s schools safer and more supportive environments for gay and lesbian students and teachers.
Rodney Croome, the group’s spokesperson stated that the initiatives have been developed to foster "…a school ethos which is free of abuse, discrimination and intolerance (and) will help guarantee that all students, regardless of sexual orientation, can reach their full educational potential. In the past, the Education Department has actually banned any discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, but thanks to today’s initiatives Tasmania is now at the cutting edge of creating safe school communities for a range of minorities including young gays and lesbians."
Ralph Graeme, Co-coordinator of Parents Supporting Parents Flag (S.A.) stated that the same measures should be taken towards the treatment of lesbian, gay and bisexual students in South Australian schools.
"We need more education for teaching staff to be able to cope with the homophobia that occurs within student peer groups where they target individuals. Schools should concentrate on pre-pubescent students, as well as the older students, because a lot of identity problems arise at the ages of 9 – 12. There should be more understanding towards this younger group as they not only have the normal pressures of growing up, but they also have to deal with the pressure of trying to identify their sexuality and the feelings of confusion that result. If they don’t follow the mainstream interests and image of their peer group, they are often subject to teasing. This can often escalate to such a frightening degree that suicide often appears to be a more sustainable option than having to cope with rejection from parents, friends, peers and even the possibility of being kicked out of home."
Pamela Rajkowski, Curriculum Officer for Health and Physical Education – HIV/AIDS for the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services stated that the Department do not have a specific policy on Lesbian, Gay & Bi-sexual students, however their "Sexual Harassment Grievance Procedures" policy is inclusive of L,G&B students and teachers.
In 1994 the National Curriculum was released, which included the embedding of sexual identity education and guidelines on how to be inclusive of all people, regardless of their identity.
On a more local level, the S.A. Department Education & Children’s Services have produced a document entitled "Sexuality and HIV/AIDS education, Effective Teaching Practice R-10" to support teachers in the planning and programming of sexuality and HIV/AIDS education which is "inclusive, socially just and equitable, and which enhances supportive environments".
As Curriculum Officer, Ms Rajkowski is instrumental in encouraging schools, teachers and councillors to adopt strategies that will aid in the elimination of harassment in and outside the classroom by addressing homophobia in a gender equity framework, and providing resources that educate children on the values of diversity. Support agencies such as Second Story are also encouraged to visit schools.
A recent strategy is the development of a web page by the Department of Education & Children’s Services and 15 other agencies. A feature in the site is a "Your Sexuality" section which answers questions about sexualities; discusses diversity, and provides stories from other young people that deal with feelings and experiences. This web page can be accessed by the student with their class, or by themselves. Another resource available to students is the K.I.S.S.S: Keep It Simple guide to Safe Sex magazine. The layout is bright, straight forward, entertaining and includes all sexualities.
It appears that the South Australian Department of Education & Children’s Services is not taking a back seat on the issues of homophobia and discrimination within the states schools, and according to Pamela Rajkowski, they are still striving to improve the education opportunities for lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers and students.