(RE) Shaping Respect: What it means to the community

By Rhiannon — VFER Project Officer

The recent Voices for Equality & Respect Summit was the culmination of months of planning. I am so proud to have been involved in the project, and before departing Women’s Health East I wanted to share some of my reflections.

What I’ve found about preventing family and intimate partner violence in LGBTIQ spaces is that it’s confronting work. It’s not an easy thing to hear, to see, or to know about. It took me a whole day to finish reading the first draft of the (Re)shaping Respect research report, and by the end of it I felt drained. But I think it’s significant that this research and work is confronting and a little uncomfortable, because we humans don’t like to sit with discomfort – we’ll do anything to change it. So now, if you’re willing, we get to change things.

Before I was given the opportunity to apply for the role as Project Officer for the Voices for Equality and Respect project, I was the Volunteer Young Leader tasked with facilitating the workshops held to elevate the voices of LGBTIQ young people. I was doodling around on my phone one night and my mother had sent me a Facebook post that read “WANTED: YOUNG LEADERS” in capital letters, on a rainbow background. I wasn’t looking for work or other opportunities at the time, but as we all know, life has a funny way of throwing things at us.

I read the flyer and it said that Women’s Health East needed someone to help create a resource about ‘equal and respectful relationships’.  Suddenly there was this little part of me who was sixteen years old again standing at my front gate, terrified, looking at this flower that had been tucked into the wire like a signature, and I knew exactly who has signed it. This dumb yellow flower gave me a panic attack on my own front lawn, because he wasn’t meant to be on my property anymore. It took me back to a time of constant anxiety because I spent three years of my life not realising why I should leave him.

Pulling back from this, looking at the Young Leaders flyer, I thought, ‘Yeah, no one else gets to live through that on my watch.’

So I emailed Women’s Health East and said, “Whaddup, I’m bi, and I wanna help however I can”. Verbatim, of course, and the rest is history.

I have met some truly amazing young people in this endeavour, from all different walks of life and some of the things they said really hurt to hear out loud. These young people told us stories of doctors who didn’t know that binding could be dangerous, about the impact of the lack of positive role-models, about schools who wouldn’t intervene when a queer student was sexually threatened but nearly expelled her for speaking about the ordeal online. 

But they also told us about this beautiful world they had found within the queer community, of love and acceptance (most of the time) where they had built long-lasting friendships and found self-love.

These young people have stories to tell. Stories worth telling.

It is time for us to sit down, get uncomfortable, and listen to them.