Study reveals devastating family struggles during marriage survey

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Photo: Lucia Weiland

LGBTIQ people from culturally diverse backgrounds have opened up about the family tension and hostility they faced during the 2017 marriage equality postal survey.

Australia’s divisive postal vote returned an overall 61.6 per cent “yes” vote. However, 17 electorates in Australia returned a majority “no” result. Twelve of those were located in Greater Western Sydney.

Now a new research project – by ACON, Western Sydney University and the NSW LGBTIQ Domestic & Family Violence Interagency – has shone a light on the varied impacts the debate had on LGBTIQ Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families.

The report found 52 percent of the 60 respondents said the disclosure of their sexual or gender identity affected their relationship with family “for the worse”.

Some 43 per cent said they experienced family tension or hostility after disclosing their identities. The most common experiences were verbal abuse (42.4 per cent), exclusion (36.1 per cent) and family exile (17.3 per cent).

The report found the marriage equality postal survey “broke the silence regarding sexuality and gender within some families and led to increases in discussion and social media posts about sexuality and gender.”

“For some families, this was a positive and transformative experience,” the report states.

“However for other participants, this exposed prejudice and created a more hostile environment.”

Struggles with sexuality, family, culture and faith

One participant, from a Bangladeshi and Pakistani background, said the marriage equality postal survey sent his family into a “moral panic”.

“They believed that ‘gay’ would become a way of life, enforced by schools, the law, and would become the new Norm and standard,” he recalled.

“This led my parents to paranoia, taking extra precautions to police me from the outside world.

“I was not allowed on social media and had my Internet privileges taken away. They monitored my whereabouts at almost every moment of the day.”

Another gay Tongan man recalled the same-sex marriage debate exposing homophobic attitudes in his family.

“It was really heartbreaking to see your family say they love you unconditionally, but they will never accept your sexuality,” he said.

Another participant described feeling “alienated from family [and] culture” as a gay man with a Spanish and Italian background. He described feeling “torn between culture, religion, and tradition” and his queer identity.

“[This] impacts substantially on our wellbeing; mental, emotional and even financial,” he said.

“We cannot rely on family in ways that straight people take for granted.

“We can never feel fully at home in either our heritage culture nor in Australian society or even in the queer community.”

However other participants recalled more positive experiences. Some described the campaign as “breaking the silence” around family discussions on sexuality and gender.

As a result, they formed “greater intimacy, closeness and trust” with loved ones.

Support groups needed for CALD families in Western Sydney

ACON CEO Nicholas Parkhill said for many the marriage equality debate was “a harmful, divisive and stressful experience”. It significantly affected people’s health, wellbeing and relationships, he said.

“The impacts were particularly acute for LGBTQ people living in some areas, such as in Western Sydney, where the region overwhelmingly voted ‘no’,” he said.

The report shows a a diversity of LGBTIQ culturally diverse voices and experiences in that region, Nicole Asquith from the NSW LGBTIQ Family and Domestic Violence Interagency said.

“There is no ‘one’ story of what it is like to be LGBTQ and CALD in Western Sydney,” Asquith said.

“For this reason, it should not be assumed that the findings are representative of all LGBTQ CALD communities in Western Sydney.

“[We] hope that by amplifying the voices of the community, we can support positive change and also help to breakdown harmful stereotypes or assumptions about CALD communities, including from within LGBTQ communities.”

She said the report highlights the need for accessible services focusing on the wellbeing of minority groups.

The report recommends legal reform in relation to banning “conversion therapy” and more acknowledgement of race, class, and gender in public policy.

It also calls for greater inclusion training and support groups for CALD families in Greater Western Sydney.

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