Holly is 13 years old. She’s in year 8 at high school. And she, along with her friends, represent a new generation of LGBT activism.
Around 500 members of and allies to the LGBT community, including Holly, gathered at Town Hall in Sydney in opposition to the policies of prime minister Malcolm Turnball and United States president Donald Trump.
The protest was organised by the group Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), a Sydney based grassroots activism group dedicated to fighting for LGBT rights, especially marriage equality.
April Halkam is a volunteer for CAAH. She says the purpose of the march was to show the amount of support there is for the LGBT community and for marriage equality.
“Today is about getting ordinary people to band together and fight against discrimination and oppression,” says Ms. Halkam.
The march in Sydney coincided with other protests around Australia, as well as pride marches and anti-Trump protests in the United States.
“I think the fact that someone like that is out there now shows that we really have to keep fighting for social justice.”
This was Holly’s first protest. Events like this mean a lot to her because they give her the opportunity to speak out against the homophobia she and her friends have experienced at school.
“We’ve had an incident where a large group of girls have kind of gone around telling all of the gay or out students that they’re sinful or wrong. And we were offered no support by the school.”
Their school, she says, doesn’t do enough to deal with homophobic bullying.
“We’ve been told by our school that to have groups and support networks for us would make other people feel uncomfortable.”
According to statistics published by the Australian Human Rights Commission, 61% of LGBT young people say they’ve experienced homophobic verbal abuse and 18% say they’ve faced physical homophobic abuse. A further 9% say that they’ve faced other forms of abuse including cyberbullying, graffiti, social exclusion and humiliation.
A report by the Western Australian Equal Opportunity commission also says that programs and support networks at schools significantly reduce the risk to LGBT youth, and they are more likely to feel safe at school. They are 50% less likely to face physical abuse and are also less likely to self-harm.
Tim Blackman, a teacher who sits on the council for the Teacher’s Federation, was one of the speakers at the protest. He thinks that teachers have a very important role to play.
“Teachers need to ensure their students feel safe and supported, this means teachers need to embrace the differences of their students,” he said.
Holly also thinks the current political climate makes things difficult for the LGBT community, and hopes to see a reinstatement of the safe schools program and the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
Holly’s mother says she is “totally in support” of her daughter and her activism.
“I’m really proud of her because I think if young people can stand up and make a stand for their beliefs then I’m happy them in their beliefs,” she said.
She thinks more parents should be attending these kinds of protests, “if we can’t support our kids, then what are they going to do in life. That’s our job, to support our kids.”
Holly and her friends weren’t the only young people at the protest. Other marchers baring the banner at the front of the group were as young as 15 or 16.
Social media and blogging sites such as Tumblr and Facebook make it easier for LGBT youth to connect with others in their community and stay politically aware.
Holly thinks more young people should be involved in activism, especially young LGBT people.
“I think it’s really important that we have representation and our voices heard and if that makes other people uncomfortable then that’s their problem”
Blackman also thinks it’s important for the voices of the masses, particularly young people, to be heard.
“I think we would have a very different society if young people were running it, because young people are extremely socially aware and do know the society that they want to live in. What I see when I am looking at the young people here is I see a lot of frustration and anger that things aren’t changing despite the overwhelming majority wanting it to change.”
He grew up in a small town, so didn’t have the chance to attend an event like this as he was growing up.
“It’s so fantastic to see so many young people have the opportunity to be a part of their community.”
For more photos of the event visit the photo gallery.
An edited version of this was also published on Central News.