News & Events

Reaching Out To Sydney’s LGBTIQ Community

15 Feb 2018
Odyssey House reaches out to Sydney’s LGBTIQ community

Stigma, prejudice and discrimination are common issues faced by people struggling with alcohol and other drug dependence, particularly if they also suffer a mental illness. The challenges stack up even higher for members of disempowered social minority groups – such as those within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community.

According to the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey*, drug-taking behaviours are becoming an increasing concern among people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual (LGB).

Statistics Regarding the LGBTIQ Community And Drug Use

The LGB community are more likely than heterosexual Australians to consume alcohol in risky quantities, use illicit drugs and misuse pharmaceuticals. In the 12 months prior to the survey, LGB people were 5.8 times more likely to use ecstasy and meth/amphetamines as heterosexual people, 3.7 times as likely to use cocaine, 3.2 times more likely to use cannabis, and 2.8 times as likely to misuse pharmaceuticals.

Research also indicates that rates of drug misuse and suicidal ideation and suicide are significantly higher among intersex and transgender and gender non-conforming people than heterosexual or LGB populations (National LGBTI Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Strategy^).

Around half of all people who come to Odyssey House to overcome drug dependence (including LGBTIQ people), also have a co-existing mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or PTSD.

It’s a concerning situation that Odyssey House makes a point of addressing in its treatment and recovery services, according to Odyssey House Community Services alcohol and other drugs counsellor Michael Yates (pictured above).

The former high school teacher changed career direction after volunteering in youth and sexual health education with ACON (a leading NSW LGBTI health organisation). Seeing the issues faced by the community he identifies with – and the benefits professional assistance can provide – convinced Michael to train as a counsellor.

He undertook a Graduate Diploma in Counselling before joining Odyssey House in early 2017. As well as working full-time as a counsellor in Odyssey House’s Central and Eastern Sydney Community Services (located in Redfern and Canterbury), Michael is currently studying his Masters in Social Work.

“I find great satisfaction in having a positive impact on people’s lives. I work with all sorts of clients, not just sex and gender diverse people,” Michael says.

“All Odyssey House staff are trained to understand the specific issues facing minority groups, such as discrimination, victimization, bullying, social prejudice, stigma, isolation and family estrangement.

“We bring this cultural competence and sensitivity to the table when counselling individuals or running group sessions, which involve local people from all walks of life and social circumstances who have a common goal to overcome drug dependence.

“Ice (crystal methamphetamine) and alcohol are the principal drugs of concern for many of our clients. GHB, ecstasy, cocaine, cannabis and ketamine are also fairly common among our LGBTIQ clients, sometimes as an episodic or ‘social’ drug, but sometimes it’s their main issue.”

Odyssey House Stall At Sydney Mardi Gras 2018 Fair Day

LGBTIQ Mardi Gras

Odyssey House is increasingly participating in community events, taking its message to the public to provide information and advice about alcohol and other drugs, harm reduction measures and personal safety. For the first time, Odyssey House Community Services had a stall at Sydney Mardi Gras 2018 Fair Day in Victoria Park, Camperdown, where Michael and his colleagues spent the day engaging with fair goers, handing out education materials and giving people a go with the altered reality of ‘beer goggles’, which enable the wearer to experience how excessive alcohol impairs their physical abilities and can put them at risk.

“Our community activities are about education and breaking down barriers and misconceptions, and introducing people to Odyssey House and our staff,” Michael says.

“Odyssey House provides a safe, supportive service to all people regardless of their social situation or sexual identity, but we’re particularly conscious LGBTIQ people may hesitate to access health care services unless they’re confident staff are culturally competent and non-judgmental.

“We don’t want people to delay getting treatment for their drug dependence or to feel they need to hide their sexual or gender status, as this can hinder recovery as well as undermine their overall health and well being.

“Ultimately, we want to reduce stigma and prejudice about alcohol and other drug dependence, mental illness and drug treatment itself, and encourage people in the community to reach out to Odyssey House for help.”

* Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017. Note the survey does not capture information on people who identify as transgender, intersex or queer.

^ National LGBTI Health Alliance, 2016

If you or a family member are in need of help, contact us on 1800 397 739, or click here to find out more about our services.