The Young Australian Empowering LGBTI Youth
6 November 2017 at 8:18 am
Micah Scott is the founder and CEO of the Minus18 Foundation, which is a youth-led organisation allowing young LGBTI Australians to have their voices heard. He is this week’s Changemaker.
Minus18 have been running LGBTI youth events for the last 18 years, and are well known for their annual Queer Formal – where more than 500 LGBTI teenagers come together in a safe space wearing what they want, with who they want – to celebrate their identities.
Scott, along with a number of his colleagues, saw an opportunity for Minus18 to spread its wings and utilise a network of young people in a more supportive capacity.
So in 2011 he founded the Minus18 Foundation, which provides education to LGBTI students and schools, and runs workshops for professionals on how to support LGBTI people.
For more than 10 years, Scott has led the charge for LGBTI youth empowerment, and has been involved with organisations including the Foundation for Young Australians, the Oaktree Foundation, and LGBTI radio station JOY 94.9.
Scott was recently recognised for his broad contribution to the queer community, when he was named Victorian LGBTI Person of the Year at the 2017 GLOBE Community Awards.
In this week’s Changemaker, Scott talks about how Minus18 helped make him comfortable with his own identity, the current challenges facing the LGBTI community with the same-sex marriage plebiscite, and the supportive group of friends that help him when things get tough.
What is your history with supporting the LGBTI community before becoming involved with Minus18?
Minus18 is pretty much in line with my entire experience of being openly queer. I went along to a Minus18 event when I was 16 years old and prior to that I just hadn’t found any form of community. I was so ashamed and uncomfortable with my own identity and walking into Minus18 for the first time, I felt like I belonged and wanted to get involved as much as I could. So I volunteered at Minus18 helping out with their events and it kind of grew from there.
I got involved with other organisations, like LGBTI radio station Joy 94.9 and I volunteered with the Victorian government and supported the Safe Schools program as well. So all of that provided my own expertise on communications and strategy and education with those programs, to try and help LGBTI young people and ensure that no one else had to go through the same experiences that I had.
What made you decide to form the Minus18 foundation and what kind of work does the foundation for the do?
I guess the biggest motivator for us was seeing that potential, and knowing that the rate of discrimination that young people face is absurd. The impact of that discrimination through mental health problems is just so disproportionate to what any other demographic of young people have to go through, and the latest statistics from 2017 show that of the transgender young people experiencing discrimination, nearly 50 per cent will attempt suicide. And to us that is completely unacceptable in the Australia that we live in.
Minus18 has had such a great relationship with LGBTI young people because we are young people. As a youth driven organisation, young people create all the education, all the resources, and run all the events. Some really awesome things come out of that and there’s a lot of power there. So forming a charity just made a lot of sense. And we felt that with charity status and as an organisation with a board and government support, we could do great things.
As you just mentioned, Minus18 is not only youth focused but also youth led. So what do you think are the benefits of having actual young people working to help other young people in the LGBTI community?
The main mission of Minus18 is to elevate the voices of LGBTI youth. There’s historically been a lot of work and conversations done about or for young people, but many haven’t actively included their voice. And a really good example of that is the marriage equality debate. A lot of the “no” campaigners are talking about transgender young people and their identities, and there’s this fear mongering around teaching gender diversity in schools, but very few people actually stop and ask a young person what their experience is and what they think of that.
So that’s our job, to give young people the opportunities to speak their mind in their own words and share their own stories. I suppose the other element is that [making decisions] comes quite naturally to young people. So when it comes to running events, young people know what sort of events they want to see. They know what sort of education they want in schools. So if they’re the ones producing that, it’s by default going to be way more effective and a lot more engaging as well.
What are some of the challenges currently facing the Minus18 Foundation and the LGBTI community in general?
Well as everyone knows, we’re in the middle of a plebiscite on marriage equality at the moment. So that seems like the most obvious challenge but below the surface, as I mentioned, young people still experience extreme rates of discrimination and abuse because of their identity. And I suppose when you consider the experience of a young person and the types of discrimination they face, it’s more severe for LGBTI young people, who have less support networks when they identify as queer.
And a really good example of this, is comparing to a young person at school who gets bullied because of their race. That young person more often than not, can go home to their families and tell their parents they experienced racism. And their parents can often sympathise and relate to that, because they have likely gone through the same experiences.
But somebody who’s LGBTI doesn’t have those automatic support networks, and bullying and discrimination is compounded as a result of this. So it’s up to organisations like Minus18 to act as that support, and to teach school staff and other youth workers how to be supportive, because it just doesn’t come naturally to some people within the community.
Do you think acceptance and support for the LGBTI community has improved since you started the foundation? Or do you think the current same-sex marriage campaign has demonstrated we still have a long way to go?
It’s a bit of a two step forward, one step back scenario for gay, bisexual and lesbian young people. It’s improving and it’s getting better. But for all of the good stuff and the positivity comes visibility. And when you are more visible you’re more likely to experience discrimination or abuse. And so with this greater visibility there becomes more work to be done, to ensure that young people are supported when they do experience this.
But largely for gay, lesbian and bisexual young people, their experiences are improving. It’s a completely different story for trans, gender diverse and intersex young people, who are basically where we were at with the LGB community maybe 15 years ago. And we have a long way to go to support those young people.
What are some of the short-term and longer-term goals for the Minus18 foundation?
Short-term goals are to realise this profile of ours and encourage community members to support our mission. We’ve got a great reputation amongst young people and we’re very well known throughout the youth community. But we’re now just kind of racing into mainstream Australia and more and more people are jumping on board with our mission. And so we really want to invite as many community members in as we can, and let them know about our work and let them know that this awesome mission is going on and hopefully drum up some support for that. Because unfortunately this sort of work can’t sustain itself without fundraising and without donations.
In terms of medium- to long-term goals, we really [want] to break out of Melbourne and we’ve started doing that with running again in Adelaide. We want to make sure that our offerings, our workshops, our education and our events are available for all young people Australia wide. We already have supported more than half a million young people through our online support system since we started Australia wide. And since it started, 55,000 young people over Melbourne and Adelaide have attended Minus18 events. But that doesn’t even capture a fraction of LGBTI young people needing support.
So we want to start events, particularly the queer formal – which we’ve run for the past few years now – and expand that to run in other cities, particularly Sydney. We’re also looking to Brisbane, Hobart, and all the way over to the west of Australia, over the next couple of years. We want to ensure that every single LGBTI young person or as many as we can possibly capture, have a safe space to meet other young people and have a space where they know that they are accepted and supported and loved. That’s absolutely what we’re aiming for.
Can you take me through a typical working day for you?
It’s pretty unique. We only have five staff here in the Minus18 office and we’re all part time. So generally we’ll come in and have a team meeting about what we’re doing for the week. Our volunteers will come in a little bit later. They work on projects, [which] might be things like planning upcoming events, working on website articles or support systems and there might be a team coming in to brief them before they go out into a school or workplace, to build an education session and professional development.
But mostly there’s a lot of glitter and lots of young people, who are highly energised and wanting to know how they can start our next project and what to can do next.
How do you find time for yourself amongst your busy schedule?
That’s the constant struggle isn’t it? I’m very fortunate. I have a group of really understanding, loving friends, who help me when I get into those work holes. And so working multiple weeks at a time without a break, they’re there to pull me out of that and take me away, or get my head out of the LGBTI youth world. And obviously taking those breaks and that self-care is pretty crucial. And I also play a lot of video games too… I love video games.
Do you have a favourite saying that guides the work that you do?
It’s “better a whoops than a what if”.
When we founded the Minus18 Foundation, to be 100 per cent honest, we didn’t know what the heck we were doing. And if it wasn’t for that mentality that it’s okay to make mistakes and that’s how you learn, then we wouldn’t be where we are today. You have to kind of brace yourself and allow yourself to do that and take those risks, because otherwise you never know what you could achieve.