New research showing lesbian, bisexual and queer women are experiencing increasing rates of abuse and harrassment as well as other important health concerns are “a call to arms” on LBQ women’s health, a conference in Sydney was told this week.
Amy Coopes is covering the 3rd biennial Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women’s Health Conference, which continues in Sydney today.
Below she reports for the Croakey Conference News Service on some of the news from the first day of #LBQWHC17. Beneath her article, watch an interview with Dr Julie Mooney-Somers about the new research, and check the compilation of conference tweets and selfies.
Amy Coopes writes:
Verbal abuse and harassment of lesbian, bisexual and queer women had surged in the past two years to a 10-year high, amid vitriolic debates over same-sex marriage and the Safe Schools program, according to a new report unveiled Thursday.
The latest Sydney Women and Sexual Health survey (SWASH) findings were made public at the 3rd biennial Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women’s Health Conference –#LBQWHC17 – held for the first time in Sydney.
Now in its 21st year of data collection, SWASH profiles the demographic and health profile of women in contact with Sydney’s gay and lesbian community.
The 2017 edition affirmed long-term trends on mental health (poor), experiences of abuse by LBQ women, substance use, screening, and rates of smoking that were double that seen in the general population (30%).
Even more shocking, according to lead investigator Dr Julie Mooney-Somers, was the fact that half of young LBQ women were taking up smoking, something she described as a “massive failure in terms of public health”.
But the standout trend was a staggering 10 percentage point increase in verbal abuse or harassment since 2014 – a period dominated by debates over the same-sex marriage plebiscite and safe schools program – to a level not seen for a decade (37.4% reported experiencing it in the past 12 months).
“We don’t know from SWASH… why it might be happening, but I don’t think it takes research to be able to see some of the kinds of things that are happening in our community in terms of marriage equality debates which have happened over the past couple of years,” Mooney-Somers told Croakey (see our full interview here).
“A lot of the concern around the plebiscite was about the fact that people may experience a lot of uncomfortable conversation and discrimination around their sexuality.”
Mooney-Somers said Sydney’s notorious lockout laws may also have been a contributing factor, by driving punters out of Kings Cross and the city into areas like Newtown, where many LBQ women live.
“It’s a real concern for us, that increase in verbal harassment, because we also know that mental health is a significant issue for our community and we can see that in our stats.”
Also worrying was how few of these incidents were reported to police, Mooney-Somers said.
Other highlights from the SWASH report
- 35% of women had never had an STI test, despite the majority being sexually active
- 19% had never had a pap test, and a further 12% were overdue – women who reported never having had sex with a man were 2.5x more likely to be overdue for screening, underscoring persisting beliefs within the community and among health care workers that lesbians did not need pap tests
- 81% consumed alcohol and 48% drank beyond the NHMRC guidelines
- 45% had used one or more illicit drugs in the past 6 months, use at much higher levels than within the broader community – of particular note was an uptick in use of valium or benzos to record highs (18.5%)
- high psychological distress reported by 35% of young women (16-24) surveyed, and 14% overall
- 47% had received a mental health diagnosis in the past 5 years; 65% has accessed psychological services
- 1 in 5 reported a disability or chronic illness, this was 27% in those aged 45+
Of interest from a public health messaging standpoint was what Mooney-Somers described as the ‘disappearing lesbian’ phenomenon, with more and more of the younger generation shunning the label in favour of ‘queer’.
Mooney-Somers urged delegates to spread SWASH’s findings far and wide – to GPs, MPs, mainstream organisations, family and friends – as a call to arms on LBQ women’s health.
ACON deputy chief Karen Price said SWASH had been pivotal over two decades in informing health campaigns, lobbying and policy development – “a small sample plugging a lot of gaps for an almost invisible population”.
She pointed to the successful #smokefreestillfierce video, which had gone viral in more than 30 countries, and the #talktouchtest breast cancer screening pilot, which on Thursday won $200,000 in funding from the NSW government for a full rollout.
Drawing on the findings of SWASH, Price said ACON was also launching a new pap test campaign targeting LBQ women called ‘At Your Cervix’ (which we will hear about in more detail at the conference today).
Announcing the funding on behalf of NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, MP Leslie Williams said LBQ women were a priority population for NSW Health in the areas of mental health and suicide, alcohol and other drug use and family and domestic violence.
No LBQ conference would be complete without a Penny Wong fangirl moment, and the Senator graciously obliged, but the biggest laughs were reserved for TV executive Manda Hatter, who is also on the board of ACON and an ex-president of the Mardi Gras-leading Dykes on Bikes group.
“We service our bikes better than we service ourselves,” said Hatter, describing the conference as a unique opportunity for the meeting of hearts and minds. Given the conference trended for much of the day on Twitter, it’s safe to assume this was taking place.
A panel discussion on the bioethics of creating queer families, including questions of race in donor conception, screening and eugenics and surgical interventions on intersex infants, was a major highlight of Day One along with Bonnie Hart’s impassioned address on the Darlington Statement.
Stay tuned for coverage of this in coming days, and be sure to check out Bonnie’s interview with us here.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s issues feature prominently in the program, with a keynote on Indigenous suicide by Dr Vanessa Lee headlining Day Two events. We’ll be wrapping some of the workshops including a yarning circle by Queensland’s Indigilez collaboration in further coverage of the conference.
Tweets and selfies
Warm thanks to all who are sharing the #LBQWHC17 news via Twitter and social media.
Watch the interview with Dr Julie Mooney-Somers
• Bookmark this link to follow our coverage of #LBQWHC17.