Nicole Telfer (she/her, disability and inclusion practitioner): Safety means different things in different situations. Physical safety means there’s no one and there’s nothing in an environment that’s going to cause you harm. Thinking about emotional safety, you might think about whether you feel safe to be able to be your whole self and to bring your whole of person to that environment. Thinking about your cultural safety might mean looking at whether your culture, your values and belief is respected and protected in that space. For many LGBTIQ+ people, being safe means thinking about those things in all of their interactions with people and with other services.
Dee (parent of Max and Oscar): A safe service for our family looks like one that accepts our family for who we are. It’s one that every member of the family feels comfortable engaging with. It’s someone who’s respectful of the makeup of our family. A safe service is seeing who we are, and it's being respectful of who we are.
Matthew Parsons (Manager, Education and Strategic Development, Rainbow Health Victoria): One of the core ideas inside the Rainbow Tick framework is that LGBTIQ people have the right to cultural safety. They have the right to access services that have done the work to make sure that they have a consistent, equitable, safe access to that service where they can be their whole self, where that’s celebrated.
Caz (parent of Sam): So in terms of safety for my child and for myself, it looks different than it would look like probably for a neurotypical family. I didn't realise the level of hypervigilance when you have a nonverbal child. Keeping Sam safe for me is just as important as it is for every other parent and child. It’s just that I can’t ask him what's been going on. I can’t ask him those things. Once I feel that there is a safety within that service, I can just calm down.
Nicole Telfer: The experience of coming out isn’t a one-off. It’s something we do every day. And we never know how people are going to react or how that reaction might make us feel. So thinking about safety – your emotional safety, physical safety, and cultural safety – is a really important part of making choices around the services you want involved with your family.
Dee: I think the biggest strategy I use is research and interview. So my first step is always look at their website. I will always want to do a face-to-face interview with somebody who I’m going to engage to work with us in any shape or form. And I will always do that outside our house. I will also then invite them to come and meet Max because I want to see how they actually interact with him on a human level.
Matthew Parsons: Some of the signs you can look for about – that someone’s done the work to be more culturally safe is the language that people use. The options to provide pronouns on a form, the options to describe your gender in a way that’s accurate, the way that they talk about relationships. A lot of language stuff can really create cultural safety.
Nicole Telfer: When thinking about safe services, there are things you can consider. You can look for things like a rainbow sticker or the rainbow tick. Might help to develop a bit of a script about your family. It might help to be really clear about what it is that you want to know or what you need from the service. And looking at social media and other community message boards can help in finding out a bit more about local services.
Dee: I’ve kind of got some goalposts or some gateways that are my checkpoints. And they've come from trial and error. You learn over time what works for you as both a person with a disability and what works for you as a family that needs support.
Matthew Parsons: LGBTIQ people experience particular marginalisation and discrimination that that will prime LGBTIQ people to be expecting the worst, actually. So, what safety looks like for LGBTQ people in health and human services or disability services is clear signals to us that the picture of the world that that service sees and wants to portray to the world is one where we are celebrated, where we are definitely of equal value.
Nicole Telfer: Choice and control is a fundamental part of the NDIS. And at its core, it means that you have the right to change services. So if you're feeling unsafe, you have the right to change services. We know that for some people, that might not be so easy. For example, if you're living in a rural or remote area, there might not be a lot of alternative options. So for some people, it is important to find ways to work with the services that they've got. Remember that you're in control of your information. And you only need to say as much as you feel comfortable with.
Jax Brown, OAM: I think trying to manage a dynamic with an individual or service that isn’t being as accepting or inclusive as you would like really, really tough. You’re needing a referral from them or you're needing some kind of level of support from them still. And so you're stuck in that interaction, to some degree. And one of the ways that I’ve found to try and navigate that dynamic is to just be really clear about what I need to get out of it and how I need to utilise it to move to the next step of whatever it is that I’m there for and seeking support on.
But just kind of letting some of that stuff slide, having a big debrief with my partner afterwards, finding that support in other ways but utilising the kind of assistance that I need from that professional in the ways that work for me and keep me feeling safe. So, sometimes we don’t need to speak back to everything.
Dee: There is a constant coming-out, both as queer and a queer family and as a disabled family. For example, a lot of therapists will always talk with kids about mum and dad. And it's that constant, ‘Well, actually, the boys have a mum and a momma,’ or, ‘Dee has – Dee’s autistic and has ADHD. So Dee must have carried the boys.’ Well, actually, no. I’m not genetically related to the boys in any way, shape, or form. So that’s another form of coming out that I’ve got to do. I’ve got to justify how I created my family. I can’t go to the doctor without being asked about how my pregnancy was. It’s constantly explaining every aspect of your life in a way that I don't think other people have to do quite as much.
Caz: I have actually been asked a couple of times where Sam’s dad is because I am a single parent. And it's actually children that have asked those questions. And when I’m speaking to a child to answer that question, I’ll just explain the differences between families and that rainbow families are another type of family. And they accept that beautifully.
Dee: We’ve been really lucky in that we’ve somehow managed to find this fantastic group of queer, neurodiverse, nonbinary support workers, both as support workers for Max and also support workers for Tash and I. And it's a fantastic little group that we’ve created around us that’s very much a queer-friendly, neurodiverse-friendly little family group.