Vulnerable young people are being harmed by outdated attitudes to sexuality and bigoted abuse in Gympie, according to queer advocates.
Following this year’s first Pride Festival in Gympie, the founders say they started the festival to offer a safe space to LGBTIQ+ people being abused and excluded.
Pride Festival Founder Emily Smith told The Pineapple ‘…while there is a façade of acceptance and inclusion in Gympie, there’s an undercurrent of violence.’
Ms Smith said she was aware of a gay school student being stalked and physically assaulted in Gympie by other students.
In separate incidents, 20 year-old Gympie resident, Justin, says he has been verbally abused, yelled at, told ‘no-one is born gay’ and had a drink thrown on him at a Gympie hotel in June this year. All were unprovoked attacks.
At the hotel, two female bystanders stepped up to support Justin. ‘It’s usually women who do step up’ he said.
Justin said his co-worker at a Gympie business was abused by two customers over a Pride Festival poster displayed at the shop.
His boss, Wayne’s World manager Dianne Fogerty, said she stocks Pride flags, hats and other products with rainbow colours and Pride insignia and will continue to do so.
‘There have been a few customers telling us to remove our stock and saying nasty things. I told them that’s bigotry. It’s not illegal for LGBTIQ+ people to be who they are and I will continue to support the community. It’s about acceptance.’
While appreciative of supportive businesses displaying ‘safe space’ stickers and Pride festival posters, Justin says there is a minority of people in the community going out ‘with hate’ for the LGBTIQ people in Gympie.
‘There are people going a step further than saying ‘that culture is not for me’, he said. ‘They are going out of their way to say and do hurtful things.
‘I wouldn’t feel safe walking alone at night in Gympie.’
Bystanders not always active
Justin’s sister Christina has witnessed him being abused.
‘It makes me angry and upset that there’s abuse happening in person and on social media and often no-one stands up and says this is wrong,’ Christina said.
‘It may be only a handful of individuals being abusive but while people stand by and watch and do nothing, that’s saying they are happy for this to happen.’
Abuse in schools
Justin’s friend Arielle, says attitudes at some schools are not always helpful.
‘I challenged a teacher in class at a Christian school in Gympie who told students ‘gay people are sick and they are going to hell’, said Arielle.
She told the teacher in that class ‘you are saying things that are damaging to young people.’
Arielle witnessed a school pastor tell students ‘you can’t be gay and Christian’ and ‘we love you but it’s still not OK’.
She said two boys were kissing (in a private place) at the same school were expelled last year ‘though the school implied it was for other reasons’.
Justin said there were few visible LGBTIQ+ people in Gympie and very few in the 20 to 30 age group ‘because no-one wants to live here as a queer person’.
A prominent Gympie creative told The Pineapple her gender diverse child was stalked and had a milkshake thrown at their head at Gympie Central.
‘Security and the Centre Manager had to step in to keep my child safe,’ she said.
The mother said a couple of years ago her child and their queer friends were afraid to use toilets or drinking fountains at a Gympie high school in case they were targeted.
The mother complained to Education Queensland and says the school now has a more proactive approach to supporting LGBTIQ+ students and the culture has improved.
Gympie police supportive of LGBTIQ+ community
The Queensland Police Service website says the QPS is aware LGBTIQ+ communities experience discrimination, harassment and hostility in everyday life.
‘The QPS is committed to ensuring policing services are accessible to all members of the community, which includes services and programs tailored and responsive to the needs of LGBTIQ+ people.
‘The QPS LGBTI+ Liaison Program was established in 1997 to support delivery of a professional, non-discriminatory, accessible policing service to LGBTIQ+ communities.
‘The QPS supports and actively participates in LGBTIQ+ events such as Pride Festivals, Wear it Purple Day and International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.’
Gympie Police Inspector Brad Inskip said he could not comment on whether so-called ‘gay hate crimes’ were occurring in Gympie as police did not record the role sexual orientation played in crimes.
Inspector Inskip said ‘It’s not OK that anyone in our community does not feel safe’.
He encouraged victims of homophobic abuse or assault to report crimes to police.
‘Our message to the LBGTIQ+ community is that we will stand up for your legal rights and we will handle reports sensitively.’
The Wide Bay / Burnett Police District has five LGBTIQ+ liaison officers. The nearest liaison officer is in Maryborough and the QPS says a Gympie-based liaison officer will be appointed soon.
Maryborough-based LGBTIQ+ liaison officer, QPS Senior Sergeant Tanya Walters said one role of the liaison officers was to ‘break down barriers’ to people reporting crimes and making complaints.
‘We know crimes against the LGBTIQ+ community are under-reported, in a similar way to domestic violence and elder abuse. There’s a stigma,’ Snr Sgt Walters said.
‘Being outed as LGBTIQ+ can be a barrier. In the smaller regional communities there can be discrimination.’
Inspector Inskip and Snr Sgt Walters said the community and community leaders, along with police, had a role to play in helping set standards of behaviour.
Snr Sgt Walters said ‘I would say to the community in Gympie: think about your value system and what aligns with it. If you see a crime being committed against a member of the LGBTIQ+ community, think about what you can do to support this person.’
While police do not suggest members of the public put themselves in harm’s way or directly intervene when crimes are being committed: ‘It might be a matter of coming forward saying I saw what happened and here’s my name and number if you need a witness,’ Snr Sgt Walters said.
LGBTIQ+ young people vulnerable to harm
The ‘Private Lives’ report by La Trobe University called found members of the LGBTIQ+ community report poorer mental health and higher rates of assault, abuse and discrimination than the general community.
Other studies found young same sex attracted and gender diverse Australians report suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts at much higher rates than the average.
Step by step guide on standing up for your rights
Some forms of harassment, abuse and inciting hatred of members of the LGBTIQ+ community are unlawful under the Queensland Criminal Code (report to police) and the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act (complain to police or the Human Rights Commission).
How to complain to police
If any member of the community is at immediate risk they should call 000.
Members of the LGBTIQ+ community can also report crimes against them in the following ways:
- In person at a police station. LGBTIQ+ people can request to go to a private room to make their report or complaint to a police officer.
- By phone. Call Police Link 131 444. LGBTIQ+ people can call their local LGBTIQ+ liaison (numbers at link under Useful Info below) or request their report be referred to their local LGBTIQ+ officer who will provide a pathway and support through the QPS system.
- Call Crime Stoppers on 1300 333 000 and give enough detail about the Who What Where When and How of the alleged offence so that police have enough information to investigate.
How to complain to the Queensland Human Rights Commission
Under the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, vilification is a public act or statement that incites hatred towards, severe ridicule of, or serious contempt for a person or a group of people because of their race, religion, sexuality or gender identity.
There are two tiers of vilification under the Act: unlawful vilification, which is a civil matter and serious vilification, which is a criminal offence police can prosecute.
Police say vilification crimes are rarely reported.
However, in 2018, after two Gympie locals complained, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal found former Gympie councillor and gun ship owner Ron Owen broke state anti-discrimination laws by expressing his contempt towards homosexuals in several publications.
Mr Owen was ordered to apologise to the two complainants.
Queensland Human Rights Commission LGBTIQ+ liaison officer Heather Corkhill said while reporting vilification or hate crimes wasn’t always easy, the commission encouraged people to talk to them confidentially about their experience if they were exploring options around making a complaint.
‘We can’t provide legal advice or advocate for you but we can give you information about the law and about how it might apply to your experience,” Ms Corkhill said
‘Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community, and to be able to exist as their authentic selves in public without fear of harassment or abuse.
‘Any kind of violence directed towards our LGBTQI+ communities is disturbing, but even more so when it seems to be prompted by people’s opposition to public events such as Pride festivals – these are supposed to be moments which bring communities together to celebrate diversity, not create outlets for abuse and discrimination.’
As for Justin, a dancer and dance instructor, he says the support of the creative community and his employers in Gympie have kept him here to the age of 20. He plans to move to Brisbane next year.
‘Anywhere else you would see gay people, but in Gympie queer culture is hidden.’
Queensland Police Service LGBTIQ+ program www.police.qld.gov.au/police-and-the-community/lgbtiq-communities
QPS LGBTIQ+ Gympie liaison Senior Sergeant Tanya Walters 4123 8196 or email LGBTIProgram.WideBayBurnett@police.qld.gov.au (email is for raising issues or supplying info on events police may support or attend, not for reporting crime).
Gympie Pride Festival www.facebook.com/gympiepridefestival/
Headspace Gympie headspace.org.au/headspace-centres/gympie/
Queensland Human Rights Commission (handles complaints under the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act) http://www.qhrc.qld.gov.au/complaints