By Kate Thomas
For 25-year-old Jack Thomson, growing up ‘bush’ has a lot of perks compared to city living, including the wide-open spaces and a lot less traffic. But, being gay and rural can throw up some challenges such as isolation and loneliness.
“Coming from a town with a smaller population, I believe it is hard to be different,” he said.
“There isn’t the extent of people experiencing what you are or there to experience it with you.”
Eighteen per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer Australians aged between 14 and 21 live in rural areas.
And, compared to the general population, LGBTIQ+ people are more likely to be diagnosed with mental ill-health and are five times more likely to attempt suicide.
Since August, when the same-sex marriage postal vote became Turnbull government policy, mental health professionals have been attempting to deal with an escalation in demand, with fears the situation will get worse as the campaign progresses.
According to youth service ReachOut, there has been a 20 per cent increase in people accessing its online advice relating to LGBTIQ+ issues, coinciding with the roll-out of the same-sex marriage postal survey.
Growing up in the country shire of Parkes in western New South Wales, where harvesters moving through canola fields is the norm, life was “lucky” for Jack Thomson and his two younger siblings.
“I was a country boy through and through,” Jack said.
Throughout High School, Jack always felt he was a little different to his peers and it was only when he started attending university that he realised he was gay.
To begin with, opening up about his sexuality was a difficult process for the young adult but coming out proved to be a pleasantly surprising experience.
“My experience has been pretty good, besides a few internalised issues that I created for myself, every person I loved and cared about didn’t care that I was gay,” Jack said.
“It’s very much an internalised process until one day you feel comfortable enough to come out to yourself and then the process starts. You can start to reinvent yourself as the new person you just signed up for.”
Although, now comfortable in his own skin, Jack believes there are still unique challenges that come with being LGBTIQ+ and living in a rural area such as limited support networks.
Teddy Cook, a Regional Outreach Development Manager from ACON says that things are looking-up for LGBTIQ+ people living in remote locations.
“There are dozens of LGBTIQ+ support services from all over Australia converging online, especially on Facebook,” Mr Cook said.
“If you want to chat with someone to explore what’s going on in your life, QLife is a nationwide telephone and web-based, peer-supported service for all ages.”
With the postal survey to return both national and electorate-level results on November 15, Jack Thomson believes the main thing for those in learning about their sexuality in the current climate is to be true to themselves.
“The main thing is to know yourself, do your research, and understand that it isn’t wrong to be in love with someone of the same gender or to think that your sex and gender aren’t aligned.…You do you,” Jack said.
There are a bunch of ReachOut films available, which highlight helpful information for those in the LGTIQ+ community.
If this story has raised concerns for you, or for someone you know, help is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.