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Youth Advisory Council - Celebrating inclusion and promoting sexual health

May 17, 2019

International Day Against Homophobia, biphobia, intersexism and transphobia, better known as IDAHOBIT Day is held on the 17th of May every year.

It is a day to celebrate inclusion and champion diversity. And while we have come far in improving the rights of LGBTIQ people, there is still work to do.

Three in four Australian LGBTIQ young people have experienced some form of discrimination. This worrying statistic is one of the reasons that work underway by the ACT Youth Advisory Council (the YAC) is so important.

The YAC is a group of 12-25 year olds who take a leading role in participation and consultation on issues affecting young people’s lives. The YAC facilitates interaction between Canberra’s young people and the ACT Government, meeting with me regularly to consult on policies and initiatives that matter to young people.

The YAC has been working to endorse and promote IDAHOBIT as part of its broader focus to address the unique experiences of young people who are in non-traditional relationships.

Last year, the young people who sit on the YAC also identified sexual health and well-being as an issue worthy of their effort and attention.

As part of this work, the YAC is seeking to increase the inclusiveness of information available to young people and ensure sexual health information reflects the diverse relationships and cultural needs of all young people.

I had the opportunity to speak about YAC’s important work in response to a motion brought before the Legislative Assembly this week by my colleague Tara Cheyne to recognise sexual health as a vital component of a person’s overall health and wellbeing.

We know that sexual health is an issue young people care about, but may also feel uncertain or embarrassed in talking about.

We know that sexual health is also an issue that a lot of parents and carers worry about, on behalf of the young people in their lives. But again, they may not always feel comfortable discussing it.

Young people may also face particular challenges in feeling confident or comfortable accessing sexual health services. That’s why talking openly about sexual health and raising awareness of these services is crucial to improving health and wellbeing outcomes.

So it has been absolutely fantastic to see YAC undertake its very own youth-led awareness campaign, in partnership with Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT (SHFPACT), to help ensure that young people understand how to stay safe and healthy in their sexual lives.

The YAC and SHFPACT partnered to produce postcards which provide tips for young people to, in their words, “stay safe in the wild”. The YAC’s campaign is an example of young people using their own language to talk to other young people about sexual health.

I always enjoy my meetings with the YAC co-chairs but a particular highlight was the time they first showed me their postcards which asked “DTF?” in large bold font on the front.

For those who are unfamiliar with this initialism, I advise you to use your favourite search engine or simply to ask a young person.

The back of the postcard provides some straight-forward information and a link to the SHFPACT website to find out more.

The YAC has also undertaken to engage with the Women’s Centre for Health Matters in order to promote information and advice on how to safely access abortion services. These initiatives represent the frank, upfront and enthusiastic approach of young people in promoting a sexually healthy lifestyle.

At our most recent meeting, the YAC co-chairs outlined some of their priorities and their new work plan for 2019-20, which continues their focus on sexual health and well-being. Over the next year, the YAC will be working to engage with ACT schools about the sexual health education they provide, as well as continuing to work to promote healthy relationships practices among young people and consistent understanding of consent.

I look forward to seeing this work progress over the coming months. Our conversations about young people and sexual health are too often focused on anxiety and fear. The work of YAC in this space is a perfect reminder of the positive role young people themselves can play in our discussion about health and about sex.