On 15th November 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 61.6% of Australians and 88.7% of the electorates indicated that they favoured same-sex marriage (see ABS statistics here). With nearly 13 million people returning the survey, the measurement error is minuscule (approx: .00028%). Hence, one would expect a quick enactment of legislation reflecting these views.
Despite the celebrations that have ensued nationwide in the last week, the long survey cycle and campaigning may have exacerbated distress among members of the LGBTIQ community. It is well-established that LGBTIQ people suffer higher levels of distress than the rest of the Australian population, including increased risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts, especially among the young and gender diverse individuals. From experiences in other countries, however we also know that LGBTIQ people’s lives have improved considerably after their community has legalized same-sex marriage. This includes a 7% reduction in suicide-attempt rate in a US study, and evidence of improvements in various dimensions of same-sex couples’ lives in other studies.
A lot has happened in this area of Equity and Diversity over the last decade nationally and internationally: Community, media and political debate have widened and often become heated, the number of published research articles on LGBTIQ issues has similarly escalated. UON Psychology is actively engaged in this process: Psychology conjoint Associate Professor Rachel Heath and her collaborator recently secured a contract from a US publisher to write an update to their 2006 book with the title “A guide to transsexual and transgender health: State-of-the-art information for gender-affirming people and their supporters”. The book is intended to provide a readable and scientifically valid account of the main issues associated with people’s goal of attaining an appropriate confirmation of their gender aspirations towards increased wellbeing, happiness and productivity. A/Prof Rachel Heath hopes to have the book available for purchase by delegates to the biennial World Professional Association of Transgender Health Conference to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in November 2018.
We need more research and more balanced dissemination of research findings in this area. When asked to comment on the science community’s role, A/Prof Heath said: “It is difficult for scientists to comprehend the complexities revealed by the infinite diversity of sexual orientation and gender expression. There is much research to be done in this field from a psychological perspective, as well as by researchers in cognate disciplines”. In 2006 A/Prof Rachel Heath published one of the first comprehensive research volumes on the topic, a volume that is available in the University of Newcastle and Mater Hospital libraries, and in over 400 libraries worldwide. We look forward to UON Psychology and researchers to continue playing an active role in E&D research and advocacy for the wellbeing and self-determination of E&D groups and LGBTIQ communities.