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Tell us about Minus18?
Minus 18 is a youth led organisation for same-sex attracted and gender diverse (SSAGD) young people. The main premise of the organisation is reducing social isolation for these young people by providing opportunities to build relationships in a non-judgemental environment.
How did it get started?
Minus was actually started in 1998 by a group of parents who realised that there weren’t a lot of spaces for same sex attracted young people to go. Most venues were clubs or parties where you’d need to be overage to attend, so a lot of high-school aged students were either really socially isolated from their communities or they were illegally sneaking into clubs.
Minus started out as a group that organised events, mainly dance parties, for same sex attracted young people. It came from the idea that different identities can be explored in a social environment without the pressure of sitting around in a circle and talking about it. Now we’ve really moved into a space of diversity promotion, as well as events, and creating online community spaces.
One thing we always say about Minus18 is how impressed we are with how well you balance the youth events stuff with the advocacy side of things. How do you get that balance right?
Everything we do is devised and planned by young people. For example when we were coming up with Dear My Year 7 Self (Minus18’s latest campaign), we held a series of meeting with young queer kids and young straight kids. By including young people at every stage you can’t really go wrong, you’re still getting a services and health promotion vibe across but it’s always injected with young people’s voices.
Do you think the needs of same sex attracted and gender diverse young people are addressed in most mainstream sex ed?
This comes up really frequently with us. What we’re hearing from the young people we’re in touch with is that sex education doesn’t occur at a school level. We talk a lot about heteronormativity in school environments generally and this is usually when it’s raised. SSSAGD kids say discussions or questions about gay or lesbian sex are usually met with discomfort or a lack of knowledge; it’s not always that teachers don’t want to talk about it but they’re just not informed or comfortable, for whatever reason.
What effect do you think it has on young people when they don’t feel their sexuality or experiences are being reflected in the sex ed they’re receiving at school?
Well firstly there’s the misinformation. If you’re really missing out on getting the knowledge that you need from one avenue then you seek it yourself, and this usually means Google.
If you’re in your health class and the teacher is talking about sexual health and it just doesn’t apply to you, then you’d obviously feel really isolated. It’s not just that though, you also get the message that sexual health and safe sex doesn’t really apply to you. This is especially common with young same sex attracted women, they often feel sexual health doesn’t apply to them.
Are there any prominent sexual health issues you see that might be specific to same sex attracted communities?
For gay men, I think it’s a need for sexual health information outside of HIV.
Also there’s that invincible mentality- the idea that if you or your partner haven’t had many partners then you’re at a low risk.
For young lesbian women, the main thing is breaking through the mentality that it doesn’t apply to them. Actually an interesting stat came out recently, that bisexual young women were far more likely to fall pregnant than heterosexual women. It just shows that if you don’t feel you’re being addressed in health class, it can be off-putting and make people tune out to the messages.
What can sex ed providers (whether they’re schools or external bodies like YEAH) do to combat these issues and make content more inclusive for SSAGD young people?
More than anything it’s about inclusive language and specifically identifying and enabling discussions on same-sex sexual health and relationships. Sometimes it’s not enough to just use gender-neutral names (Like Ash and Lee etc). A lot of people think that when straight kids hear those names they’ll assume it’s a boy and a girl, and when gay kids hear the names they’ll assume it’s a boy and a boy (or a girl and a girl!). But same sex attracted young people grow up in a heterosexual world and are bombarded with heterosexual messages so most of the time they’ll still assume the story refers to a boy and a girl. By the time you get to talking about gender neutral names and the like, you’ve usually lost the SSAGD young people because they’re used to things not applying to them. You need to be explicit!
And this works both ways. It’s good for heterosexual young people to be engaged in a discussion about same sex relationships, it broadens everyone’s minds.
How do you think the topic of healthy and respectful relationships come into it?
A lot of the time sex education occurs later in life for young same sex attracted young people. They sometimes figure out they’re gay a bit later, or it’s not included in schools so SSAGD young people can sometimes be a bit more naive to these things. Especially when you’re new on ‘the scene’ you can be taken advantage of. A lot of young same sex attracted people don’t want to seem like dorks by saying ‘I’m not sure what I’m saying yes or no to here.’ And besides, communication is just super important during any form of relationship so it’s important young same sex attracted people have the language for that.
How do you see YEAH and Minus18 working together in the future?
Getting sexual health info to LGBTIQ young people, even earlier! I also think supporting teachers and working together on more inclusive resources would be good. Although we try to be a resource on a broad range of topics for SSAGD young people, Minus18 doesn’t have the capacity to do in-depth coverage of every issue so that’s where YEAH can come in. I think, going back in the other direction, we can help YEAH even further with inclusivity and young people’s perspectives.
For more of our Youth and Sexual Health Sector blog, check out these posts:
2Spirits Program Manager, Michael Scott, talks CondomMan and tells us why indigenous sexual health should be a priority during NAIDOC Week. Read more.
WIRE’s Service Delivery Co-ordinator, Sheridon Byrne discusses the importance of young women being empowered to take control of their sexual health. Read more.