Teacher, researcher and advocate Jacqueline Tomlins was a consultant on DPV Health’s You Are Who You Say You Are report and will be the key speaker at an open online forum on Wednesday.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

DPV Health will take steps towards more inclusive services as it releases the final report of a needs analysis on improving the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or questioning people in the Hume and Whittlesea municipalities this week.

Jacqueline Tomlins, a consultant on the You Are Who You Say You Are report, and a teacher, researcher and member of the Victorian Ministerial LGBTIQ Task Force, said it revealed gaps in local support for members of the queer and transgender communities.

“What we found from talking to a range of different people of different ages who lived around the catchment areas is that there were a number of significant ongoing challenges both for younger people in school and study, and older people in employment, in accessing services or the lack of services and the sense of cultural visibility or safety in the area,” Ms Tomlins said.

The five areas of priority identified by the report were feeling included and affirmed in their identities; having their names and pronouns respected; safety; community connection and belonging; public celebration.

More than 150 LGBTIQ people were surveyed and many reported not feeling safe to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity to their GP or other health professionals. Some were driving long distances for peer-supported services where patients felt they could rely on a sense of trust and understanding from the health professional.

The analysis was a part of DPV Health’s Rainbow Tick Accreditation, a national framework that helps organisations show they are safe and inclusive services for the LGBTIQ community.

One of the recommendations of the report, and a part of obtaining the Rainbow Tick, was providing education and awareness training to all staff.

“That’s the sort of thing that any organisation needs to be doing on an ongoing basis,” Ms Tomlins said.

“To ensure that the staff on any given day if somebody comes in, that person is going to get a welcome, that they aren’t going to be misgendered, that they won’t get a sense that they don’t have a place or belonging, that they won’t be asked unnecessary invasive questions, and that doctors and counsellors will be able to provide an informed service.”

When asked about the wider community, some respondents reported feeling unsafe in certain areas, at night, or being identifiably queer in any way, such as holding hands with their partner.

Low-level, ongoing hostility in respondents’ daily lives was common and something that many took for granted, while some experienced name-calling, bullying, harassment, aggression, hostility and violence.

The issue of visibility also emerged as an important factor in the focus groups and interviews, and the online survey.

The report found that visibility in the form of symbols like Rainbow flags, LGBTIQ groups and activities, and public celebration of annual events and significant dates was fundamental to creating cultural safety.

“It’s a huge protective factor for people that we need to have a sense of belonging and a sense of connection, and people talked about [how] it would be really nice to walk down the high street and see a Rainbow flag on a shop, or a cafe that has a rainbow symbol or a poster advertising an event … that was something that people really felt was missing where they lived,” Ms Tomlins said.

In May 2020 the City of Whittlesea hosted a Rainbow flag raising ceremony on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia and Intersex Discrimination, a move which Ms Tomlins called simple but ‘quite a powerful thing’.

DPV Health will launch the report at an open online forum for LGBTIQ people on Wednesday at 6pm, to coincide with the International Day for Transgender Visibility.

Ms Tomlins will be the key speaker at the event, where she will acknowledge the significance of both the day and the steps DPV Health has taken to improve their services for LGBTIQ people.  

“We know that the health and wellbeing outcomes for [the LGBTIQ] community are not good, broadly, so this work is incredibly important and has the potential to save lives,” she said.

“I think it’s lovely that DPV Health have decided to launch on this day as an acknowledgement, and that’s the sort of thing that any organisation, any service in the region could acknowledge in some way. Put a trans flag out.”

DPV Health chief executive Don Tidbury said all its employees gathered on Thursday to celebrate the Rainbow Tick Accreditation, awarded by Victorian Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities Ro Allen.

“To achieve Rainbow Tick certification on top of the hugely demanding COVID year is nothing less than amazing. Most importantly, over time it will make an enormous difference to the lives of LGBTIQ people in outer Northern Melbourne,” he said.

Registrations for the free You Are Who You Say You Are LGBTIQ forum are essential and can be made at www.eventbrite.com.au/e/lgbtiq-forum-you-are-who-you-say-you-are-tickets-141247780915.