Mike Bennett: ‘I’ve always thought life would get better for gay kids — but it hasn’t’

Michael Bennett, Media and Communications Manager for headspace, shared his story with The Daily Telegraph on 5 March 2017... 

AT 17, I was petrified. By 23, after I’d worked up the courage to tell my family and friends, things looked better.

Reaching 30, I figured I was about 85 per cent there.

Although there’s still that niggling feeling: “What do I tell my boss when he asks what my girlfriend’s name is?” there’s also a palpable reassurance that genuine acceptance must be just around the corner.

Now, seven years on, and for some time I’ve hit a stalemate. But I also realised the difference I’ve always felt is not a difference at all, it’s an ­inequality. And it’s not good enough. And it takes its toll.

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Last week a US study published in JAMA Pediatrics ­stated those American states that had legalised gay marriage saw a drop in attempted suicide rates among gay youth: “We estimated that, each year, same-sex marriage policies would be associated with more than 134,000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide.”

It concluded: “Policymakers should consider the mental health consequences of same-sex marriage policies.”

Hello? Canberra?

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people in Australia. And when a young person identifies as LGBTI, that rate skyrockets.

The National LGBTI Health Alliance says LGBTI people aged 16 to 27 are five times more likely to attempt suicide than the national average. This can be ­explained by this fairly simple breakdown.

If you are born gay or any incarnation of it, and you live in a society where the law deems that you are lesser, you will feel lesser. Even at my age I check myself, wondering how Bob from accounts, or Betty our mortgage broker, might react once they know I’m gay.
In all likelihood Bob, or Betty, won’t bat an eyelid. But that knowledge doesn’t stop the self-doubt. If it’s reiterated enough then that entrenched discrimination can’t help but cause mental health anguish, self-loathing and questions like: “What can I do to get out of this mess?”

On average, 18.6 per cent of young people aged 12 to 25 who come to the 96 headspace centres across Australia identify as LGBTI. In some centres it’s as high as 25 per cent. This far exceeds the number of LGBTI people in Australia, which according to the Australian Human Rights Commission sits at close to 11 per cent.

Over 10 years more than 275,000 young Australians have sought some form of help at headspace. That’s a lot of LGBTI young people going through a tough time.

headspace has long recognised that young people who identify as sexuality and/or gender diverse are at higher risk for mental health and substance use concerns “relative to their heterosexual and cisgendered peers”.

This elevated risk is due to the entrenched prejudice and discrimination against sexuality and gender diverse ­people, and their consequent marginalisation.

And that starts with the law.

In August last year, Dave and I got engaged.
Perched atop a volcanic mountain in Santorini, Greece, the setting sun painting a blood-orange backdrop.

It was romantic. It was beautiful. It was ours.

Seven months later, and ­almost weekly the question comes: “When are you getting married?”

Unfortunately, that’s not up to us. We’re wise (or hardened) enough to know the laws of this country don’t define us as people. However, somewhere, someone (or many people) has rationalised I am not equal.

If you’re 12 years old this knowledge leaves an unshakable imprint. Twenty-odd years later, for me, and many others, that imprint is concreted into the mind.

mike bennett and dave
Imagine living your whole life knowing you’re not equal to your classmates? To your brother? To your parents?

Countless people have lived that life, in many forms, and that is atrocious.

Yet still, somehow, for many on the street there is no relationship between the two, but equality and good mental health are intrinsically linked, and always have been.

Good mental health starts with equality.

It’s that simple and it’s ­entirely achievable.

Michael Bennett
headspace Media and Communications Manager
To read the story on The Daily Telegraph, click here.
If you are having a tough time, visit your local headspace centre or contact eheadspace  on 1800 650 890 or www.eheadspace.org.au.