Supporting young rainbow people

The importance of Wear It Purple Day

Rainbow glitter. © Sharon McCutcheon via Pexels.

© Sharon McCutcheon via Pexels.

© Cottonbro via Pexels.

To celebrate this year’s Wear It Purple Day, the UQ Ally Network brought together a panel of young rainbow people, advocates, role models, parents and carers to explain how we can all be better allies.

Wear It Purple Day is about fostering a supportive, safe, empowering and inclusive environment for young lesbian, gay, bi+, trans, gender diverse, non-binary, intersex, queer, asexual, agender, and aromantic (LGBTIQA+) people. From here on, we will refer to them as rainbow people 🌈

Different aspects of our society contribute to the marginalisation of rainbow communities. Those factors mean that mental health amongst those communities is some of the poorest in Australia.

They are five times more likely to attempt suicide and more than twice as likely to engage in self-injury as their peers.

This is why we must work to do better to empower and support rainbow people along vulnerable stages of their journey.

Research tells us that support makes a difference. Visible messages of inclusion and the presence of supportive adults reduces the burden of those stresses and can reduce suicidality in young rainbow people.  

Our panel consisted of UQ students Elias Blanch and Joe Grew, UQ Professor Ben Burton, and representatives from PFLAG+ Brisbane, Jane Hopkins and Sandra Janssen. Together they shared their experiences and reflected on learnings from their lives.

UQ's Wear it Purple Day panel featuring students, staff and PFLAG+ Brisbane representatives.

Discussion during our panel event boiled down to three areas which allies can focus on when supporting young rainbow people: education, advocacy, and visibility.

Instagram reel of staff and students wearing purple around campus.

Screen capture of a Zoom panel discussion on Wear it Purple Day.

UQ's Wear it Purple Day panel featuring students, staff and PFLAG+ Brisbane representatives.

UQ's Wear it Purple Day panel featuring students, staff and PFLAG+ Brisbane representatives.

Greyscale rainbow painting with the words education, advocating and visibility super imposed.
The same rainbow painting in full colour with the word education super imposed.

Rainbow communities are constantly evolving and there is a lot for allies and rainbow people to learn. Our panellists reflected on why constantly educating ourselves and others is vital, using pronouns as an example.  

Some of us can use pronouns without thinking twice about them. But pronouns can be complicated. In the English language pronouns are deeply gendered, which is problematic for people who are gender diverse.

The pronouns of he, she and they.

We don’t know what someone’s pronouns are by looking at them. When speaking to and about others, allies can lead by example by using gender neutral pronouns by default (they, their, theirs) and taking guidance from individuals as to how they prefer to be addressed.

Modelling this behaviour for others and gently correcting them when they use incorrect pronouns can make the world more inclusive for rainbow people.  

Tip #1 for active allies: Pronouns are an opportunity for allies to show that they are informed and care about rainbow people. Allies can introduce themselves using pronouns, include them on presentation slides, and add them in email signatures.

Pronouns - he, she, they.

The pronouns of he, she and they.

The pronouns of he, she and they.

Rainbow graphic that says 'Education' and 'Advocating'.

December 2017 saw the passage of a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Australia.

While this legislative change was a positive shift for the rights of some, the process of achieving this result left rainbow people across Australia reeling from the tone of public debate, an increase in verbal and physical assaults and a rise in stress, anxiety and depression.

On top of this, some less well-publicised areas of discrimination experienced by trans, gender diverse, and intersex people were not addressed or resolved during the same-sex marriage campaign.   

Reflecting on these events, our panel reminded us all that the role of allies is to continue advocating for collective change. They cited their own experiences to demonstrate the impact individuals can have in their communities and workplaces.

PFLAG+ Brisbane is a peer support group organised by volunteers that helps families and friends understand their rainbow loved ones.

PFLAG+ Brisbane President, Jane Hopkins described how she provided assistance to a rainbow, interracial couple who were told to leave a Montville café for holding hands. Media coverage of the incident prompted other cafes and businesses in the region to add rainbows to their windows to provide visible support for rainbow customers.  

Experiences of discrimination for rainbow people are not always so obvious, and micro-aggressions pose a challenge. Examples include making assumptions around gender identity and sexuality, deadnaming – using the birth name of a transgender or non-binary person without their consent - and over-reacting when a rainbow person comes out.

In these circumstances, allies can play an important role in these situations by speaking out.

Tip #2 for active allies: Address problematic behaviour and language when you can and work to create a visibly inclusive environment.

Rainbow flag flying. © Cecilie Johnsen via Unsplash.
Rainbow graphic that says 'Education','Advocating' and 'Visibility'.

Representation matters for rainbow people. It is particularly important for young rainbow people searching for roles models in the world.

We live in a heteronormative world. Where do young rainbow people look to find role models in this world?

Our panel talked about how promoting diversity in popular media plays a key role in shifting perceptions and norms that can be harmful to the rainbow community.

One popular example is the Netflix cartoon She-Ra, which presents an implicitly rainbow world with same-sex parents, a non-binary character and a rainbow love story. This diverse world is made more remarkable through its rendering of those rainbow elements as ‘normal’ and joyful.

Tip #3 for active allies: Allies can help bolster the visibility of rainbow people. For instance, rainbow lecturers might choose to be out during classes. Rainbow examples can also be included in coursework and presentation content.

These are a few, positive steps which allies can take to support young rainbow people. As allies take these steps, they should remember that becoming an ally is a life-long journey. During this journey, it is okay to make mistakes as long as you commit to always improving.

Tip #4 for active allies: Allies learn from their mistakes. They acknowledge them and then strive to do better.

UQ Ally Network logo, which is an upside down triangle with rainbow colours

Sign up to UQ’s Ally Network – a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for sex, gender and sexuality diverse people at UQ and in the broader community. UQ staff can join the Network by completing the training.