Russ Vickery reflects on 'Pride in Prevention'

VSAC member Russ Vickery demonstrated the power of lived experience at the launch of the 'Pride in Prevention: A guide to primary prevention of family violence experienced by LGBTIQ communities' in June.

Friday, 7 August 2020 at 6:31 am

I recently spoke at the launch of a resource called ‘Pride in Prevention, a guide to primary prevention of family violence experienced by LGBTIQ communities’ by Rainbow Health Victoria, alongside Minister Gabrielle Williams and Gender and Sexuality Commissioner, Ro Allen.

For me, reading the resource was a very personal experience. I could see the trappings of rigid gender norms and homophobia threaded throughout my life and see how these things had influenced me becoming a victim survivor of emotional, psychological and physical violence in a gay relationship.

At the launch, I talked about stories from my own life that I saw reflected in the resource. I talked about how, as a young boy, I had been taught violence between men was normal because ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘big boys don’t cry’. Then in high school, I was labelled a ‘fag’ and a ‘queer’ because I liked drama instead of football. This taught me to be ashamed of a part of who I was.

As a young man, I was the victim of a ‘poofta-bashing’ and, despite my horrendous injuries, I chose to avoid the hospital because I could not risk being outed. I did not report the incident to the police because it was still illegal to be gay so I was afraid of what they might do to me.

In the 1980s, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit, many of my friends were dying while it seemed that the general consensus was “we were getting what we deserved.” I hid the fact I was gay until I was 42. When I finally came out, I had no other reference points, so I was not equipped to identify that my first gay relationship was abusive.

My abuser and I were both raised in a homophobic world where violence against gay men was normalised. My abuser made a choice to control and abuse me, but without rigid gender norms and homophobia, perhaps he would have been less enabled to do so.

All he needed to do was echo back the messages I had already been programmed to receive and I would believe him. These messages included “Boys will be boys” so this violence is normal, “big boys don’t cry”, you should be ashamed of who you are, and no one will help you because you are just “getting what you deserve”. Thankfully I have since learnt that it was never my fault and that this situation, and all the things that led to it, never should have happened to me in the first place. And should not happen to anyone else like me.

While a lot has improved in my lifetime, we are still taught damaging things about what it means to be ‘a real man’ or ‘real woman’ and unfortunately, LGBTIQ Australians still regularly experience harassment, violence, and discrimination motivated by homophobia, biphobia and transphobia throughout our lives.

Most LGBTIQ people’s relationships are respectful, loving, and worth celebrating, but some relationships are based on power, control, fear, and abuse. And perpetrators of abuse towards LGBTIQ people are able to draw from the many tools on hand that this context creates.

Pride in Prevention shows us how these things could be addressed. To me, it is a roadmap to a place where other LGBTIQ people won’t have stories like mine. It points us to a place where LGBTIQ people not only live free from violence, but where all bodies, genders, and relationships are celebrated equally.

A full video of the launch and copies of the resource is available on the Rainbow Health website

- Russ Vickery, LGBTIQ representative on the Victim Survivors' Advisory Council