Australia Communities and society , Welfare and equalities

Supporting the LGBTIQA+ community

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Summary

  • As the International Day Against LGBTQIA+ Discrimination is coming up on 17th May, this briefing looks at how councils are working to acknowledge, support, and engage the diverse groups that make up their workforces and communities.
  • A significant body of research has established important disparities in health and wellbeing outcomes for LGBTIQA+ communities, compared to the general population. This is likely attributable to experiences of stigma and discrimination, violence and abuse driven by negative social attitudes towards LGBTIQA+ bodies, identities, and relationships.
  • At the same time, research has shown that diverse teams perform better. A diverse and collaborative workplace wherein people feel welcome and supported has a more engaged and productive workforce, increased profitability, and the ability to retain staff and become an employer of choice.
  • While this briefing is focused Victoria, informed by the Victorian Pride Lobby’s Victorian Local Councils Equality Index, the initiatives and strategies are equally relevant for councils across Australia.
  • This briefing will be of interest to officers in the areas of human resources, workplace culture as well as health and community planning along with those with an interest in building an inclusive workplace and inclusive communities.

Briefing in full

Introduction

There is an increasing awareness of the value in acknowledging the diverse groups that make up our communities, as well as supporting and engaging with them.

The LGBTIQA+ community is one such group that is being more prominently recognised, although there is still a need for a wider understanding of their experience, as well as more advocacy for their wellbeing and equitable inclusion within society – especially at the local, state, and federal level.

A significant body of research has established important disparities in health and wellbeing outcomes for LGBTIQA+ communities, compared to the general population. This is likely attributable to experiences of stigma and discrimination, violence and abuse driven by negative social attitudes towards LGBTIQA+ bodies, identities and relationships.

LGBTIQA+ is an evolving acronym which currently stands for: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, and asexual. It also includes other terms people may use to refer to their personal experience of gender and sexuality, such as non-binary, pansexual, or atypical.

Local governments have many internal and external roles to address how they respond to the needs of the LGBTIQA+ community. This includes: staff consultative committees, human resources, realigning services, celebrations and events, support of community initiatives, and community consultation.

However, there does not seem to be a lot of consistency across local governments (in both a state-wide and national context) when it comes to how the engage with and cater for the LGBTIQA+ community.

This briefing explores how different councils across Victoria support the LGBTIQA+ community. It is primarily informed by the Victorian Pride Lobby’s Victorian Local Councils Equality Index.

The Victorian Local Councils Equality Index

The Victorian Local Councils Equality Index index compares how different local governments in Victoria perform across five different categories of LGBTIQA+ initiatives:

  • Rainbow Tick accredited
  • LGBTIQA+ advisory committee
  • LGBTIQA+ action plan
  • Fly rainbow flag
  • March in Pride / participate in Midsumma.

Rainbow Tick accreditation is a framework designed to show how safe and inclusive an organisation is towards the LGBTIQA+ community. It was developed by Rainbow Health Victoria – an independent LGBTIQA+ health and wellbeing unit at La Trobe University. Although it is primarily designed around organisations in the health and human service sector, it can also be tailored and applied to other sectors. The accreditation process can include either a standalone assessment, or can be measured against the ‘six standards’:

  • organisational capability
  • workforce development
  • consumer participation
  • a welcoming and accessible organisation
  • disclosure and documentation
  • culturally safe and acceptable services.

LGBTIQA+ advisory committees are formed by local governments to provide feedback and advice on key issues and concerns that may be faced by the LGBTIQA+ community. They typically comprise council staff, residents, or representatives from community organisations, agencies, and service providers. They help to fulfill the need for councils to provide support to their local LGBTIQA+ communities in a constructive, transparent, and participatory way.

LGBTIQA+ action plans can provide a tangible, straightforward, and transparent means of exhibiting a council’s strategies, goals, actions, and timeframes for supporting LGBTIQA+ individuals and communities, and communicating this to residents. Some Victorian councils have created standalone action plans to specifically address the performance and integration of equity and inclusion (including the Cities of Yarra, Banyule, Darebin, Maribyrnong, Moonee Valley, and Mildura Rural City Council). Others have chosen to address these issues within the wider framework of either a Health and Wellness or Access and Inclusion Plan (such the City of Glen Eira, City of Greater Bendigo, and Campaspe Shire Council).

Fly rainbow flag is a visual and universal way to commemorate events and show support to the community, during significant events such as during the postal survey for marriage equality. Other events and awareness days are the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), and Wear it Purple Day. These awareness days both celebrate the LGBTIQA+ community and highlight the need for workplaces and services to be safe spaces for LGBTIQA+ people all year round.

Join the March in Pride March and/or participate in MidsummaMidsumma Festival is a city and state-wide celebration of the LGBTIQA+ community through several dedicated arts and cultural events. To show their advocacy and participation, Victorian councils can hold a stall at the Carnival, or join the Pride March.

Equality Index findings

Overall, the Index reflected a poor rate of involvement and participation in equality initiatives by Victorian councils. Forty-three out of the 79 Victorian Local Councils (54 per cent) have some level of participation integrated into their decision-making and actions (i.e. they satisfy at least one of the above criteria.)

Only one council (the City of Banyule) achieved a score in all five categories, and two councils (the Cities of Darebin and Whittlesea) scored 4 out of 5. A further five councils (the Cities of Port Phillip, Yarra, Maribyrnong, Moonee Valley, and Whitehorse) achieved a score for 3 out of 5 categories. Thirty-five councils either satisfied one or two categories, with the remaining 36 councils not having a single initiative that met the criteria.

Figure 1: Number and percentage of local councils undertaking each equality initiative across Victoria

  Rainbow Tick accredited LGBTIQA+ advisory committee LGBTIQA+ action plan Fly rainbow flag March in Pride / participate in Midsumma
Number of  Councils 4 7 6 37 25
Percentage of Councils 5.06% 8.86% 7.59% 46.84% 31.65%

 

Figure 2: Type of council undertaking each equality initiative

  Rainbow Tick accredited LGBTIQA+ advisory committee LGBTIQA+ action plan Fly rainbow flag March in Pride / participate in Midsumma
City 4 5 5 24 22
Rural City 0 0 1 4 0
Shire 0 2 0 9 3

The initiative that scored the highest across each of the councils was ‘fly rainbow flag’ While it is quite inspiring to see nearly half (47 per cent) of all Victorian councils commit to this inclusive action, it also involves the least amount of ongoing investment on a council’s part.

In direct opposition to this, the criterias that involve the highest amount of effort to plan, implement and review – ‘Rainbow Tick accredited’ and ‘LGBTIQA+ action plan’ – rank as the lowest-executed initiatives, at 5 per cent and 8 per cent respectively.

How engaged councils are taking action

Banyule City Council

  Rainbow Tick accredited LGBTIQA+ advisory committee LGBTIQA+ action plan Fly rainbow flag March in Pride / participate in Midsumma
Banyule  ✔

According to the Equality Index, the City of Banyule is a leading council for supporting the LGBTIQA+ community through integrated inclusion strategies and actions. They are the only Victorian council to have fulfilled each of the five criteria.

The City of Banyule’s LGBTI+ Plan 2017 – 2021 outlines their commitment to, and appreciation of, their LGBTIQA+ communities. It also explores how they will work to support these communities through a four-year Implementation Plan. The goals in this action plan are drawn from the council’s Inclusion, Access and Equity Framework (which also provides the foundation for their Disability, Multicultural, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander plans). The five goals outlined in the framework are to:

  • ensure Council facilities, activities and services are accessible, inclusive and equitable
  • work in partnership with local services to increase inclusion and address service gaps
  • work in partnership to build the capacity of disadvantaged groups to be involved in community life
  • promote education, celebration and awareness, contributing to building inclusive and equitable communities
  • advocate on behalf of and with the community to reduce discrimination and disadvantage.

Council used its first LGBTIQA+ Plan (2014 – 2017) to develop its own Advisory Committee, develop an inclusive language glossary and guide, fly the rainbow flag, hold events for IDAHOBIT, and establish a presence at Midsumma. They also showed support by advocating to the Federal Government in support of marriage equality and formed a partnership with the Darebin, Moreland, and Yarra councils to create an online resource of LGBTIQA+-friendly services called “Find the Rainbow”, a map of LGBTIQA+ groups and networks, as well as LGBTIQA+-friendly services across Melbourne’s north.

The 2017 – 2021 action plan was largely informed by feedback from the LGBTIQA+ community. More recent accomplishments include achieving a Rainbow Tick across their age-care sector (specifically their home support services that provide home care and meal delivery services). More information on supporting LGBTIQA+ elders is available here.

Yarra City Council

  Rainbow Tick accredited LGBTIQA+ advisory committee LGBTIQA+ action plan Fly rainbow flag March in Pride / participate in Midsumma
Yarra

The City of Yarra also has a fairly comprehensive strategy – the Yarra LGBTIQA+ Strategy 2020 – 2024 – which aims to set clear priorities and actions to help the LGBTIQA+ community feel welcomed, engaged, and equally included within the Yarra community.

The plan outline three key priorities, each with associated strategic goals and actions. The priorities are:

  • Welcoming and Celebrating Diversity
  • An Inclusive Yarra
  • Supporting, Participating and Connecting.

They have since implemented key initiatives such as staff awareness training, participation in events such as IDAHOBIT and Midsumma, and an internal review of council policies, procedures, and forms. They are currently in the process of developing an LGBTIQA+ Advisory Committee which will provide support and insight into issues affecting the community. Similar to the Banyule LGBTIQA+ action plan, The City of Yarra’s strategy provides a comprehensive language glossary to provide guidance to the general public about appropriate language, with explanations as to why certain terms might be used. These guides are useful and can help the wider community to feel informed and included – not just the LGBTIQA+ community.

Rural City of Mildura

  Rainbow Tick accredited LGBTIQA+ advisory committee LGBTIQA+ action plan Fly rainbow flag March in Pride / participate in Midsumma
Mildura  ✔

Mildura Rural City Council is the only non-metropolitan council in Victoria to have an LGBTIA+ action plan: the Mildura Rural City Council GLBTIQ Inclusion Plan 2016. This is a 12-month initial action plan which shows how the council intends to commit to a socially inclusive community. The actions focus on developing support and fostering leadership for and within the community, outlining four areas of priority:

  • Education, respect and awareness.
  • Anti-discrimination.
  • Celebrating diversity.
  • Engagement and consultation.

Community engagement sessions helped to inform the plan, with consultation sessions undertaken via the Mildura Pride Facebook page, in person, and through a Rainbow community survey. There is currently no official advisory committee in Mildura, however they formed a community reference group to assist with the development of the action plan.

Creating an inclusive workplace

As noted by the inclusion of the Rainbow Tick in the Equality Index, local governments have a responsibility for providing a supportive and inclusive workplace.

Rainbow Tick’s framework for  LGBTIQA+ cultural safety provides a set of key organising principles for developing a plan for improving  LGBTIQA+ inclusion. The framework covers six standards: organizational capability; workforce development; consumer participation; a welcoming and accessible organization; disclosure and documentation; and culturally safe and acceptable services. It sets out understandings, key strategies and outcomes for each standard.

Additional resources for organisations include:

  • Tip Sheet – LGBTIQA+ Inclusion for COVID-19 Remote Services
  • LGBTIQA+-inclusive practice audit tool
  • LGBTIQA+-inclusive risk management – providing cultural safety.

The Victorian Government provides practical tips for creating an inclusive workplace. This includes:

  • simple actions, such as showing your inclusivity with posters and rainbow lanyards
  • holding staff events on key days (IDAHOBIT and Wear it Purple day)
  • using gender-neutral and inclusive language in conversations
  • providing gender-neutral toilets
  • setting up a pride network for LGBTIQA+ staff and allies
  • running LGBTIQA+ awareness training programs, or adding the relevant training to existing programs.

Brisbane City Council has been recognised with Gold Employer status, along with recognition as the top-ranking State and Local Government employer for LGBTIQA+ inclusion the Australian Workplace Equality Index. Council established ‘River City Pride’, an LGBTIQA+ Network that provides LGBTIQA+ employees and allies with opportunities to connect, network, share information, and support their peers. The network serves to increase visibility and advocacy for LGBTIQA+ staff within local government and foster respectful and inclusive workplace cultures. Activities include regular ‘lunch-box’ information sessions to raise staff awareness on a range of LGBTIQA+-related topics, in addition to promoting and celebrating key days such as IDAHOT Day and Wear it Purple Day within Council.

The Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet’s LGBTIQA+ Inclusion Plan 2019-2021 provides a practical example of what an inclusion plan might include. Building a positive workplace culture is a strong focus of the Plan, including training executives in LGBTIQA+ inclusion, and collecting a survey to understand the experience of LGBTIQA+ staff. The LGBTIQA+-inclusive language guide for the Victorian Public Sector (VPS) is a helpful guide for inclusive and respectful language.

Developing a broader understanding of the needs of LGBTIQA+ communities

The Australian LGBTIQA+ Policy Guide is a high-level overview of the most prominent needs experienced broadly throughout Australian LGBTIQA+ communities and covers many areas of interest to local government, including:

  • creating opportunities for LGBTIQA+ Australians in rural and regional communities
  • promoting LGBTIQA+ inclusion in local government and community, sport, and the arts
  • ensuring the wellbeing of older LGBTIQA+ Australians
  • supporting equality for LGBTIQA+ Australians with a disability
  • supporting LGBTIQA+ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The Australian Equality Party (AEP) developed the Guide through consultation to assemble a policy roadmap to LGBTIQA+ inclusion. While it was intended as a political position paper of sorts, it provides a useful resource for those interested in a broader understanding of the most prominent needs experienced broadly throughout Australian LGBTIQA+ communities.

Additional resources

Revitalising the LGBTIQA+ Sector Fund – recently, the Victorian Government’s Minister for Equality, Martin Foley, announced the 2021 LGBTIQA+ Organisational Development Grants totalling $500,000. These are intended to help LGBTIQA+ organisations build their capacity through staff development and training, as well as to plan for financial sustainability into the future, by:

  • backing LGBTIQA+ organisations and businesses
  • supporting LGBTIQA+ Victorians back to work
  • investing in our vibrant LGBTIQA+ communities and services.

VLGA Rainbow Resource for Victorian Councils – the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) has developed a ‘Rainbow Resource’ local councils. It provides examples of innovative and creative work in supporting LGBTIQA+ communities, with the hope of inspiring councils to act with greater urgency and clarity.

Comment

In light of the research showing the disparities in health and wellbeing outcomes for LGBTIQA+ communities as a result of the stigma and discrimination, violence, and abuse driven by negative social attitudes towards LGBTIQA+ bodies, identities, and relationships, there is an imperative for local governments to work actively towards greater inclusion.

From an organisational perspective, this would include actions to ensure equitable employment opportunities and outcomes for LGBTIQA+ employees and creating a workplace culture where local governments are seen as leaders in LGBTIQA+ inclusion, and as organisations that champion inclusion.

The findings of the Victorian Local Councils Equality Index suggest that while local governments are increasingly aware of the value inclusivity – with 47 per cent of Victorian councils flying the rainbow flag – there is still a long way to go, with only 8 per cent having a LGBTIQA+ action plan.

While this briefing has focused on Victorian local governments, councils across Australia are working to acknowledge, support, and engage the diverse groups that make up their workforces and communities.

With the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia coming up on 17th May, it is a good opportunity for councils to consider where they do (or would) sit in the Equality Index, and what measures they can enact to advocate and show support for diverse communities.

 

For more information on this briefing contact LGiU Australia by emailing mzierke@sgsep.com.au

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