Photo by Victoria Pickering on Flickr.
It’s Pride Month, and while the last decade has seen leaps in the advancement of queer rights, the LGBTQIA+ community still faces ongoing discrimination in our society. I know first-hand that being young and queer can be a really isolating experience, and that it can be all the more challenging if you lack support from your family, school or wider community.
I was the first kid in my grade during high school to be openly queer. My coming out also happened to coincide with the 2017 marriage equality plebiscite. This unfortunately meant that people felt they had the right to vocalise their bigotry under the guise of discussing current affairs. What’s more, I was likely the first LGBTQIA+ person that many of my classmates had ever knowingly met. School-yard discussions of queer rights always circled back to my name being mentioned like I was some sort of case study, which made me feel alienated to say the least.
If you’re situation is anything like mine was, it often seems as though the safest option is to stay closeted, or to be open but more withdrawn about your identity. This can result in feelings of disconnection and shame, which already vulnerable youth shouldn’t have to go through.
“…it can be really vital for your sense of self to interact with other queer people and queer culture.”
I was really fortunate to have both my high school’s Queer Club, which I later became the captain of, and the Musical Theatre Club, which was a safe, queer space in itself. Both these environments allowed me to proudly express my identity, while also learning more about my community. Even if you’re surrounded by allies, it can be really vital for your sense of self to interact with other queer people and queer culture. How you understand and express your identity will likely change as you gain more life experience. The vast majority of my queer friends have had to come out multiple times, or at least clarify aspects of the label they first used. Queer spaces are generally more understanding of ongoing self-experimentation and trying out different labels. Don’t get me wrong, supportive, non-queer friends are really important, but the shared lived experiences found in queer spaces can allow you to forge beautiful connections and affirm your identity.
This also goes for engaging with queer culture. Young queer people can be empowered by knowing that they belong to our vibrant community. They can also find people to look up to within our diverse lineage of powerful and inspirational figures and their contributions to society, whether it be artistic, scientific or political. These include queer revolutionaries who paved the road for the increased acceptance and rights we have today, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who were involved in the historic Stonewall Riots, politician Harvey Milk, and artist Keith Haring.
Still from Paris is Burning (1990). Photo sourced from https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/brief-history-voguing.
Queer culture owes itself to a melting pot of influences, many of which were driven by queer Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) from low socio-economic backgrounds, which is important to acknowledge and pay respects to. Ball culture, responsible for many queer performance traditions, was led by working class Black and Latino LGBTQIA+ communities in the US. Factors such as a lack of resources and alienation from wider society pushed these communities to innovate, giving rise to some of the most vibrant and creative aspects of queer culture today, like drag performance art. Unfortunately queer BIPOC continue to face heavy discrimination and marginalisation today, as they’re subject to intersecting societal oppressions. Queer people from outside these communities can show their allyship by giving credit where it’s due, and not further contributing to the disadvantage queer BIPOC experience by appropriating, silencing and unfairly profiting off of their work.
“mainstream culture… often appropriates queer culture and fails to acknowledge its pervasive influence on popular music, fashion, film and other forms of media.”
This also goes for mainstream culture, which often appropriates queer culture and fails to acknowledge its pervasive influence on popular music, fashion, film and other forms of media. This is because the dominant culture often steals from minority cultures, and ongoing LGBTQIA+ discrimination means that people are often unwilling to admit that the things they love have queer origins. Additionally, despite its widespread presence, many people outside of the queer community have a narrow perception of queer culture, and assume that much of it is too ‘provocative’, and therefore reserved for adults.
This can present a real barrier for young queer people that want to make friends they can relate to and immerse themselves in a culture they are entitled to participate in.
However, there are still many ways that you can find community and involve yourself in queer culture while you’re still under 18. Here are some of my personal favourites!
Photo sourced from https://glamadelaide.com.au/queer-sports/.
Perhaps due to their traditionally ultra-masculine connotations, most people don’t associate sports clubs with queerness. However, many queer people have and continue to excel in the professional sporting world, and the same can be said for amateur and social sport. Sports clubs are also great at fostering a sense of community, and one that’s really tangible. Besides matches and training sessions, many clubs also host community events and fundraisers. These experiences in particular can help create local LGBTQIA+ communities. Queer-aligned sports clubs can be found all over Australia and New Zealand, and resources such as Pride in Sport and the Queer Sporting Alliance can help you find them. If you’re in a position where joining an explicitly queer organisation just isn’t viable, with a little research you’ll probably find that many ‘average’ clubs also host pride rounds out of solidarity.
Photo sourced from https://bookriot.com/queer-books-may-2022/.
The arts and queer culture are strongly interrelated and continually shape one another. In fact, many of the most famous and influential artists, writers and performers from throughout history were queer, including Leonardo Da Vinci, Josephine Baker, Freddie Mercury and Virginia Woolf. Musical theatre is probably the most famous example of generating queer-friendly spaces, but if that’s not your thing, then orchestras and ensembles, visual art classes, and other arts-based community groups are solid ways of surroundings yourself with other queer people. Each year, different LGBTQIA+ themed arts festivals tour metropolitan and regional Australia, creating queer cultural experiences to enjoy. Out and Loud Choirs can help you find a local queer choir to join. And if you’re Melbourne-based, Pink Ember Studio are a queer creative space in Coburg that run visual art workshops. Even if you don’t necessarily have an interest in creating, clubs centered around appreciating the arts can also draw in a largely queer crowd. For example, Perth and Melbourne both have their own queer book clubs!
Photo by Christian Lue on UnSplash.
This one’s more so for those who are able to be open with who they are without compromising their safety. Besides doing a lot of good for the community, many LGBTQIA+ activist causes and groups attract passionate queer folks. This comes back to my point earlier about acknowledging significant contributions People of Colour and other marginalised groups have made to developing queer culture, and so this can be a great way to pay that back and make the world a more inclusive, equitable place. Another more local form of activism is to get involved with or start your school’s GSA or Queer Club, bringing LGBTQIA+ students together and educating passionate allies. With their permission, you could even hold your own event to raise funds for a charity or organisation that improves the lives of marginalised queer folks. Some worthy causes include Equality Australia, Minus18, Black Rainbow and QLife. And don’t forget that you can also refer to these resources yourself if you ever need support! It’s also important, however, to make sure you don’t centre your queerness entirely around making change, as it can fast-become really draining. Make sure that you consciously celebrate your identity too while also uplifting others.
The comic book Heartstopper, image sourced from https://deadline.com/2021/01/hearstopper-netflix-alice-oseman-order-euros-lyn-1234676286/.
Finally, you can always engage with queer culture through the media you consume. This is also a really COVID-safe option if the pandemic limits your involvement in queer culture. You can find solidarity in quality representation, and use it as a tool to learn about other identities and personal experiences within the LGBTQIA+ community. Another positive is that if you encourage your ally friends to seek out and consume queer media, it can take some of the burden of educating away from you, especially if you feel it’s becoming exhausting. Most streaming platforms these days for all media types have dedicated LGBT+ categories to look through and find queer stories to enjoy. Some really popular examples of queer media include Netflix’s new show Heartstopper (which is also adapted a webcomic), films including Booksmart and The Half of It, and books such as Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, If I was Your Girl and The Henna Wars. Some of these titles have even amassed their own dedicated fandoms online, which is another way you can find queer community.
No matter where you live, queerness and queer people exist in every area, even if it takes a little digging to find your people. You also don’t need to be completely loud and outwardly proud to get involved, so you can always take it at your own pace depending on how comfortable you feel. The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is to make sure that you’re in a safe position to be open before you start being more visible with your queerness. Other than that, go your hardest, and enjoy everything our beautiful, diverse and unique community has to offer.
Charlie Stamatogiannis (she/they) is an emerging writer and filmmaker living in Naarm, with a passion for storytelling and amplifying marginalised voices. They are currently studying a media degree at RMIT and also working on a community TV show. Additionally, her creative writing has been published in RMIT’s Catalyst.