CANBERRA -- A young Sydney woman has told federal politicians of the distress experienced by the LGBTQ community during the controversial postal survey on same sex marriage, detailing how she and friends have been left upset, in tears and in fear of abuse on the street.
Lara Boyle spoke at the Mind The Facts event held by several leading mental health organisations at Parliament House on Wednesday. The CEOs of Black Dog Institute, Headspace, ReachOut, Brain and Mind Centre at University of Sydney and Orygen's National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health united in support of marriage equality, as well as launching their campaign to show the negative effects of discrimination on the LGBTQ community.
Boyle spoke at the event alongside federal politicians Terri Butler and Dean Smith, and representatives from the mental health bodies. She told the audience she had come out in 2009, but that even after all this time, the atmosphere around the postal survey had left her rattled and upset.
"I have spent years constantly self-monitoring and adjusting my thoughts and behaviours for fear of acting the wrong way or being the subject of criticism or abuse. It's an experience none of my straight friends have had to share," she told the room.
LGBTQ people are between three and fourteen times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual Australians, one in six young LGBTQ people have attempted suicide, and one in three have self harmed. Several Australian medical bodies have supported marriage equality on mental health grounds and warned of the negative effects associated with the postal survey, while mental health organisations have experienced upticks in demand for services due to the ongoing debate, as well as claiming up to 3,000 high school suicide attempts a year could be averted by a 'yes vote'.
Boyle detailed how she had previously experienced depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in her life, and had come close to taking her life. She told HuffPost Australia that the debate around marriage equality had seen other members of the LGBTQ community similarly upset.
"It's alarmed a lot of us, myself included, who are quite confortable in their sexuality and very proud. The scale of it has affected us emotionally, my friends have been breaking down in tears at the smallest things, then there's the blatant homophobia and slurs you hear on the streets or in public," she said.
"It's bringing up memories from when I was a young teen and really struggling with my identity, making me re-evaluate it after a number of years being so comfortable with it and feeling safe. The platform this negative rhetoric has at the moment is astronomical, all these false claims being thrown around now are hard to hear."
"This discrimination is real and it's having an impact on people."
Boyle said the scale of ill will experienced by LGBTQ people had forced her and her friends to adjust their behaviour in public.
"I'm really lucky to not have been overtly discriminated against in my life but it's more the drain of the day-to-day stuff, having to check yourself and your behaviour and how you interact with people, whether the way you present your authentic stuff is going to come across the wrong way or might cause friction," she said.
"It's this constant in the back of your mind, that straight people never experience. It's small things like not holding your partners' hands in parts of Sydney, because people feel they've got the space to call homophobic slurs or attack you as a person. Walking down the street and hearing people talk about you is really hard, it's our rights. Hearing people, who it obviously wont impact, talk about our rights is really hard to take."
Conversely, though, Boyle said the process had highlighted the majority broad support for marriage equality and the LGBTQ community. She cited the prevalence of huge public rallies, supportive street posters and popular rainbow badges as encouraging signs.
"Seeing the overwhelming response from friends, family, members of the public supporting the Yes vote is amazing when there's so much hatred flying around. [Opponents] are a minority but they're a loud minority," she said.
"It's positive and empowering, so incredible to draw on that strength. The rallying of the community for a cause that doesn't affect all of them is fantastic."
Boyle said the mental health organisations represented at the Mind The Facts event were "incredibly important" for the LGBTQ community, and encouraged anyone experiencing difficulties or hard times to reach out.
"If you're not out yet, or not comfortable talking with family or friends or your support network, you've got these organisations of professionals who can help you out," she said.
"They have the experience and knowledge to help you out, they're a third party that can be impartial to whatever it is you're going through. It's invaluable, the resources they're offering."