This post is the second in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].
In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.
In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to three questions about experiences of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence, including publishing their personal stories of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic violence.
It makes for particularly tough reading – not only are the reported rates of physical abuse, both over their lifetimes and specifically during the last 12 months, far too high, many of the examples of violence that were provided are, frankly, brutal reminders of the unacceptable state of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Australia today.
If the topics covered in this post raise any issues for you, contact details of relevant support services are provided at the end of the article.
Question 1: Have you ever experienced physical abuse or violence because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?
Question 2: Has one or more instances of this physical abuse or violence occurred in the past 12 months?
Overall, 26% of survey respondents – 431 people out of the 1,647 who answered question 1 – indicated they had experienced physical abuse or violence because of their LGBTIQ status at some point in their life.
128 people – or 30% of respondents who answered yes to question 1[ii] – then answered question 2 by stating that at least one instance of this anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence had occurred during the last 12 months.
Including those who answered no to question 1, that means approximately 7.8% of all respondents reported experiencing physical abuse or violence in the past year alone.
It should be noted that these rates are significantly lower than the numbers who had previously reported receiving anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment or abuse. Nevertheless, these findings confirm that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse or violence in Australia is unacceptably high:
- 1 in 4 LGBTIQ people have been physically assaulted simply because of who they are, and
- 1 in every 13 LGBTIQ respondents has experienced such abuse or violence in the last 12 months alone.
The following sections show the results to these two questions according to different demographic groupings, including LGBTIQ status, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, age, and residence by state and territory.
There were some potentially surprising results in reported rates of lifetime anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence. However, the respective answers of different groups to question 2 were more predictable – and more depressing for that reason. The results for both questions were as follows:
Lesbian: 24.1% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 27.3% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[iii]
Gay: 34.4% ever, and of those 23.6% during the past 12 months[iv]
Bisexual: 14.6% ever, of those 44.2% in last 12 months[v]
Transgender: 33.6% ever, of those 47.2% in last 12 months[vi]
Intersex: 46.7% ever, of those 71.4% in last 12 months[vii], and
Queer: 27.1% ever, of those 44% in last 12 months[viii].
The rates for intersex respondents were clearly the highest – on both measures – although the small sample size (n=15) should be remembered at this point. Of the remaining LGBTQ groups, the category reporting the highest lifetime rates of physical abuse or violence were people identifying as gay, followed closely by transgender people.
There are a range of possible explanations for this, including physical bullying of gay students during school, and ‘historical’ incidents of anti-gay violence that may have happened many years ago (and there is some evidence for both factors in the personal stories of violence detailed below)[ix]. Sadly, the relatively high rates reported by transgender respondents were instead largely predictable.
On the other hand, fewer gay respondents who had experienced violence at some point in their lives reported an instance of this in the past 12 months than any other group.
It is more worrying to look at the proportion of each group overall who reported an instance of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence in the past 12 months:
- Lesbian: 6.5%
- Gay: 8.1%
- Bisexual: 6.5%
- Transgender: 15.6%
- Intersex: 33.3%
- Queer: 12%
On this measure, the proportion of gay respondents reporting physical abuse or violence is much lower, and is in fact similar to both lesbian and bisexual survey respondents.
However, this finding demonstrates the disproportionate impact of recent anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse and violence on transgender, intersex and queer members of the community.
Therefore, while there have historically been high rates of homophobic (and specifically anti-gay), transphobic and intersexphobic violence in Australia, there appears to be comparatively far higher rates of transphobic, intersexphobic and anti-queer physical abuse during the last 12 months.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
As with verbal harassment and abuse, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported higher rates of physical abuse or violence than their non-Indigenous LGBTIQ counterparts.
36.7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents reported anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse at some point during their lifetime[x], which is higher than both gay and transgender people, discussed above. Of those, 40.9% indicated at least one instance of such violence had occurred in the past 12 months[xi].
Taken together, this means that 15% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported homophobic, biphobic or transphobic physical abuse or violence during the past year – double the rate of non-Indigenous LGBTIQ Australians (7.5%).
There were some significant differences in terms of experiences of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence depending on the age cohort of the respondent:
24 and under: 18.7% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 47.6% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[xii]
25 to 44: 33.1% ever, and of those 27.2% in the last 12 months[xiii]
45 to 64: 39.9% ever, and of those 16.4% in the last 12 months[xiv], and
65 and over: 30.1% ever, and of those 9.1% in the last 12 months[xv].
Thankfully, the proportion of LGBTIQ people aged 24 or under reporting lifetime physical abuse or violence was lower than their counterparts in other age cohorts. Of course, this result should be expected given their lesser ‘life experience’ (ie fewer years in which abuse may have occurred), but that was not the case for verbal harassment or abuse which was reported at similar rates to older groups.
Rates of lifetime homophobic, biphobic and transphobic physical abuse or violence then increased for people aged 25 to 44, and again for people aged 45 to 64, before declining for people aged 65 and over.
One possible explanation for this is the age at which these groups ‘came of age’: people aged 65+ turned 18 before 1970, and lower visibility of LGBTIQ people (and especially some communities within this umbrella term) may have lessened their experiences of direct physical violence (while exacerbating other problems, including social exclusion and mental health issues).
On the other hand, people aged 45 to 64 generally turned 18 in the 1970s and 1980s, and likely bore the brunt of societal backlash to increased visibility of non-cisgender and/or non-heterosexual Australians, including via physical assaults.
It is however worrying that for those people who turned 18 in the supposedly more accepting 1990s and 2000s (who are now aged 25 to 44), the rates of physical abuse or violence remained relatively high – with 1 in 3 survey respondents in this demographic affected.
Turning to anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse in the past 12 months, the results were very different:
- 8% of all respondents aged 24 or under reported abuse in the last year, compared to
- 1% of people aged 25 to 44
- 5% of people aged 45 to 64, and
- 8% of people aged 65 and over.
Once again, we see that current homophobic, biphobic and transphobic physical abuse and violence is disproportionately affecting younger LGBTIQ Australians – who are 35.4% more likely to report such abuse than people aged 45 to 64.
Despite all of the progress that we have made, on so many fronts, the fact that 1 in 12 LGBTIQ people aged under 25 reported physical abuse or violence in the last year alone is a confronting, and in many ways, devastating, statistic.
State or Territory of Residence
The rates of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic violence did not differ greatly between most states and territories:
NSW: 26% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 27.3% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[xvi]
Victoria: 29.5% ever, and of those 29% in the last 12 months[xvii]
Queensland: 26.4% ever, and of those 21.2% in the last 12 months[xviii]
Western Australia: 28.1% ever, and 45.2% in the last 12 months[xix]
South Australia: 25.2% ever, and of those 29.4% in the last 12 months[xx]
Tasmania: 19.8% ever, and of those 45.4% in the last 12 months[xxi]
ACT: 14.3% ever, and of those 37.5% in the last 12 months[xxii], and
Northern Territory: 23.8% ever, and of those 20% in the last 12 months[xxiii].
Despite the similarity between jurisdictions, there are three things here worth noting:
- Western Australia had by far the highest overall proportion of LGBTIQ people reporting physical abuse or violence in the last year, at 12.4%[xxiv]
- The ACT has reported significantly lower levels of physical abuse than the national average (5.4% in the past 12 months), and was also significantly lower in terms of verbal harassment or abuse, and
- Despite having the second lowest lifetime rates of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, Tasmania actually reported the second highest rates in the past 12 months (9%), repeating a similar pattern for verbal abuse.
Question 3: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of this homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence [Optional]:
This question allowed respondents to provide an example of the physical abuse or violence they had experienced, irrespective of when it had occurred.
As anticipated, many of the stories that have been shared are both incredibly powerful, and profoundly upsetting.
At this point, I would recommend that you only read further if you are emotionally and mentally prepared to do so. To help you decide whether to continue, please be aware that some stories involve details of physical violence and injury, as well as sexual and child sexual assault.
A lightly-edited[xxv] version of the stories of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse or violence that were shared can be found at the following link:
question 3 physical abuse or violence comments
From my perspective, several consistent themes emerge from these stories, including:
The most common type of story shared involved anti-LGBTIQ abuse in the school environment (at least 38 respondents mentioned school). For example:
“Other kids would throw food at me at school and threaten to kill me. One time a group of bigger boys held me down and drew penises on my face at school. Teachers did nothing. People just laughed. I wanted to die.”
“During the HSC, the day of my last exam. A group of guys waited for me around the corner of the hall. They grabbed me by the neck and dragged me around the corner whilst beating me.”
“I was violently assaulted during high school. A boy at my school also stalked me and threatened to rape me to ‘make me straight.’”
A number of respondents explicitly indicated that the homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse occurred some time ago:
“Many years ago at high school. Managed to steer clear of physically violent homophobic behaviour since then.”[xxvi]
“I was bullied relentlessly when I was at school. It was a long time ago (in the 70s) and it included physical abuse. I’m one of the lucky ones, I survived. Many other young LGBTI Australian youth didn’t… and this is still continuing today, validated by politicians and religious ‘leaders’ who have no concern about the harm they are doing by imposing their hetero-normative agendas.”
“I have been punched in the street a few times in the 1990s and once had a bottle broken over my head and was stabbed in the face with the broken bottle (year 2000).”
Several stories involved anti-lesbian violence, including attempts of ‘corrective rape’ and sexual assault:
“I have been bashed in the street for holding my partner’s hand, I have been threatened with rape for dancing with another woman, I have had the police stand in my lounge room making threatening gestures when my partner and I reported a crime, refusing to do anything because ‘some people just don’t like dykes’ and we’d ‘just have to get used to that.’”
“Men grope me, stick their hands down my pants in public places and try to force me to kiss them. When I say I’m a lesbian it’s always either ‘that’s okay I don’t mind’, ‘I can change that’, ‘you’ve just never had a good fuck’.”
“When I lived in Queensland (not where I currently reside) I had strangers at parties come up to my girlfriend and I and forcibly try to dance with us and grope us and insist that we should have sex with them/have a threesome because we need ‘some real fucking’.”
Another common theme was anti-trans violence, such as the ‘policing’ of gender appearance or behaviour, and again including sexual assault:
“Was physically abused by a middle-aged woman who was confused by my gender presentation and took it upon herself to check + feel my chest for the presence of breast tissue (which was underneath my binder).”
“I’ve been sexually assaulted by partners because of my gender non-conforming behaviour, to try and ‘correct’ me into being femme.”
“When I wasn’t out about being a trans man, this bi girl that also knew I was bi thought it was ok and appropriate to sexually assault me and grab my vagina.”
“I was sexually assaulted when a group of young men found out I was transgender.”
A disturbing proportion of stories involved physical abuse and violence from parents, family members and partners in intimate relationships:
“My dad tried to beat the gay out of me a lot growing up.”
“As a child I was beaten at different times by both parents, one publicly, and being told to man up.”
“My mum hit/tried to strangle me when I came out to her as trans.”
“A boyfriend at the time – I told him I’m queer (pan, if you like) and he started grabbing me without my consent sexually in public.”
At least a dozen stories referred to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence in spaces and places that the LGBTIQ community call ‘home’:
“I got king-hit/coward-punched whilst walking down Oxford Street in Sydney during Mardi Gras.”
“I have been poofter bashed – just off Oxford St – and was once assaulted by police officers (which I took action about).”
“When I lived in Sydney in the mid-1990s I was bashed by a group of ‘skin-heads’ on Darlinghurst Rd as I walked home after work.”
“Physically assaulted and knocked unconscious by men loitering at a McDonalds on a popular gay night strip in Melbourne.”
“Several years ago I was assaulted in Malvern Rd Prahran by 5 guys yelling death to fags – luckily for me as the group kicked me as I lay helpless a driver stopped and they got scared off.”
And then there were some stories that defied easy ‘categorisation’, but which were so powerful that I felt compelled to reproduce here:
“I’ve been verbally abused, threatened by men, chased by youths with knives and survived an attempted rape and murder by a straight man who saw me come out of a gay pub.”
“Attacked during lgbt rally, egged until I got welts, physically attacked, had people bang on the windows of my room + house and yell they’d kill me etc.”
“Glass bottles thrown at my head and at my lesbian friends because we needed to “get back to the Valley with the freaks” and “needed them to show us dick” so we would stop being into women; guy holding up my girlfriend by her throat because we kissed in a pub; sexual assaults to me (several) partly because they knew I was bisexual so I was “automatically up for sex”. I wasn’t. There was no consent. I even said no and they said I was lying because I am bi.”
“I, my partner and her elderly father were all bashed by a bunch of teenage boys who chased us from the train station to our home kicking us, hitting us, spitting at us, throwing things at us and verbally abusing us. They then attacked my father-in-law when he attempted to come to our aid. He was in his mid-60s at the time of the attack.”
Some shorter comments were nevertheless shocking:
“Being beaten by 3 older men who had followed me home after I left my boyfriend on public transport. I was 16.”
“My partner and I were assaulted whilst kissing to say good bye.”
“My partner and I had glass beer bottles thrown at us walking down the street while holding hands.”
“I was last assaulted for my sexuality in early 2013, and dozens of times before that.”
Finally, and disturbingly, there were at least three stories in which the person who experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse tried to downplay the extent of the violence:
“Bashed (not badly) numerous times by strangers, usually with onlookers. Extreme harassment and threats from police on several occasions.”
“Mild beatings by groups of boys in late high school.”
“Just being punched in the face.”
Describing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence in this way is likely part of a psychological coping strategy for these respondents – but, from this author’s perspective, there is no circumstance in which the word ‘just’ ought to appear in front of the phrase being punched in the face.
The results of this survey suggest that 1 out of every 4 LGBTIQ Australians have experienced homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence at some point in their lives.
30% of that group – or 1 in 13 out of all survey respondents – reported anti-LGBTIQ physical violence in the past 12 months alone, confirming once again that 2016 was an awful year for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians.
These proportions were even higher for some sections within the community. While the overall rate was 7.8% reporting abuse in the last year, the equivalent figure was:
- 6% of transgender people
- 33% of intersex people
- 12% of queer people
- 15% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people.
LGBTIQ respondents age 24 and under were also 35.4% more likely to report recent homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse than people aged 45 to 64.
Some of our political leaders like to espouse the idea that Australia is an inclusive and tolerant country, welcoming of differences in sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. That may be the case for some people – but these figures reveal a different, harsher, reality for many LGBTIQ Australians.
And, if anyone doubts the impact of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse and violence in this nation, I encourage them to read the personal stories from survey respondents, detailed above. If they do, they will come away with a better understanding of what life is like for far too many people.
As noted at the beginning of this post, this has been the second in a series of six articles reporting the results of my ‘The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia’ Survey.
The next four will be published over the remainder of March and April, with part 3 – which focuses on the places where prejudice occurs – to be published in a couple of weeks.
If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.
If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:
- QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)
- Lifeline: 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au
[i] The first was published two weeks ago: The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse
[ii] Only people who answered yes to question 1 were provided with an opportunity to answer question 2, with 430 people completing the second question and 302 (70%) indicating they had not experienced physical abuse or violence because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in the past 12 months.
[iii] Question 1: 78 yes/246 no. Question 2: 21 yes/56 no.
[iv] Question 1: 220 yes/419 no. Question 2: 52 yes/168 no.
[v] Question 1: 76 yes/445 no. Question 2: 34 yes/43 no.
[vi] Question 1: 125 yes/247 no. Question 2: 58 yes/65 no.
[vii] Question 1: 7 yes/8 no. Question 2: 5 yes/2 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re intersex status must be treated with caution. For this reason, intersex status is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.
[viii] Question 1: 133 yes/358 no. Question 2: 59 yes/75 no.
[ix] The comparatively low rates of lifetime abuse reported by bisexual respondents may also be related to lower historical visibility of this group.
[x] Question 1: 22 yes/38 no.
[xi] Question 2: 9 yes/13 no.
[xii] Question 1: 165 yes/719 no. Question 2: 78 yes/86 no.
[xiii] Question 1: 144 yes/291 no. Question 2: 31 yes/114 no.
[xiv] Question 1: 110 yes/166 no. Question 2: 18 yes/91 no.
[xv] Question 1: 11 yes/25 no. Question 2: 1 yes/10 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re people aged 65 and over must be treated with caution. For this reason, this group is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.
[xvi] Question 1: 140 yes/399 no. Question 2: 38 yes/101 no.
[xvii] Question 1: 113 yes/270 no. Question 2: 33 yes/81 no.
[xviii] Question 1: 66 yes/184 no. Question 2: 14 yes/52 no.
[xix] Question 1: 43 yes/90 no. Question 2: 19 yes/23 no.
[xx] Question 1: 34 yes/101 no. Question 2: 10 yes/24 no.
[xxi] Question 1: 22 yes/89 no. Question 2: 10 yes/12 no.
[xxii] Question 1: 8 yes/48 no. Question 2: 3 yes/5 no.
[xxiii] Question 1: 5 yes/16 no. Question 2: 1 yes/4 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re the Northern Territory must be treated with caution. For this reason, the NT is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.
[xxiv] Full results: NSW 7.1%, Victoria 8.6%, Queensland 5.6%, WA 12.4%, SA 7.4%, Tasmania 9%, ACT 5.4%, NT 4.8%.
[xxv] In this context, lightly-edited includes:
-Removing identifying information, and
-Removing offensive (for example, racist) remarks.
I have also chosen to exclude a couple of stories where the connection between the physical abuse or violence experienced and anti-LGBTIQ motivation was not clear, and one longer story which could not be edited to retain key points without also potentially disclosing the identity of the person concerned.
[xxvi] It seems one of the lessons many learned at school was to hide or minimise visible displays of same-sex behaviour, to avoid future abuse or violence.