A start up to StartOut
Brendan White and Adam Dent
To eradicate discrimination of young people of Diverse Sexuality and Gender (DSG)
Adam Dent and Brendan White are co-founders of StartOut Australia – a charity that works to fill a crucial void in the resources and support available to people of DSG who may be dealing with issues that stem from their sexuality. The online hub of StartOut will be a space that will both celebrate and normalise DSG by driving the point home that your sexuality says nothing about where you can go in life. It will also create a safe environment where people can seek support if necessary and find comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone.
The boys are well-versed to be leading the charity – Adam has a business background and is a career humanitarian, recently leading the relief and recovery effort in response to the Black Saturday bushfires with the Australian Red Cross. Brendan is currently a manager at consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers and describes himself as a tech geek with an interest in all things innovative and entrepreneurial.
We met Brendan at the last One Quarter Journal collaboration with Pozible in Melbourne when the charity was still in its early planning phase. He and Adam launched the charity in February 2014 and we were keen to catch up with them following this to find out how things were going.
Where did you get the idea for StartOut Australia?
Actually it was probably a café conversation, having both just read a book called The Velvet Rage by Dr Alan Downs that described so clearly the feelings of shame that people of DSG so often feel, and how this can affect someone throughout their adult life. Did you know that around 80% of DSG people experience intense anxiety in any 12 month period?
We both realised that not only was this similar to our own story, it’s also the story of so many people we know, and we thought that there must be something we can do about this. We both know that building resilience, developing leadership skills and providing good role models for people is a proven way of helping people through a lot of issues that they face and research has shown us that this can include preventing anxiety and depression.
There are a number of programs that exist in various forms, and so with StartOut Australia we hope to be able to make existing support for the DSG community more accessible, as well as creating our own targeted programs and rolling them out nationally. We are excited to spread a positive message, that it’s OK to be yourself, and that there is support out there for those that need it!
I like the acronym that you just used - DSG - as opposed to LGBTIQ - for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex Questioning. Can you tell me more about that? Is this a way of trying to break out of the need to label sexuality or something else?
That’s exactly right, we don’t like using yet another acronym to describe people, but we think using DSG is a step towards not needing one at all.
LGBTIQ is something that has evolved over time to be more inclusive of people’s differences, but actually seems to be doing the opposite. While we think it definitely has a place and is hugely important in providing a sense of community for people that identify with it, we also think it excludes a great number of people that don’t. There is also confusion about which version of these acronym is correct, is it GLBT, LGBTQ, LGBTIQA… All of this just distracts us from what really matters - that people are different, and that’s entirely OK!
We’ve looked at research from the World Health Organisation and it tells us that one of the key determinants of positive mental health is social inclusion, so we wanted to find some way of bringing our audience together rather than isolating and separating them into categories.
We actually came across DSG in a Beyond Blue study about mental health in the gay community and it struck us a great, all-inclusive term that in our minds immediately reduces stigma and negative associations that people might have with existing acronyms and labels. And a great thing about using DSG is that it includes straight people too, so ideally people can more easily accept that differences in sexuality are a part of life.
What do you see as the key barriers to equal participation for young DSG people? What needs to change?
We have noticed that there is a lot of support and acceptance for DSG people in major cities, for instance Melbourne has Joy 949, Minus 18, Midsumma and many more fantastic, visible DSG friendly organisations. Sydney is very similar, but as soon as you venture out of the CBD, you find a different story. Some small regional groups exist but are not necessarily as accessible as their city counterparts. There are plenty of studies showing rates of suicide and mental health issues among the DSG population are disproportionately high in rural and regional areas.
Similar studies also show that around 80% of young people use the internet as the first place they go to for support. What we think would be fantastic is for an accessible and helpful support network to be made available online for these people who are seeking guidance, and a way for them to interact and get support in a safe and positive way.
How will StartOut Australia be part of that process?
We are excited to be a part of the solution!
It’s clear that a lot of mental health interventions occur when someone is already in a space where they are dealing with the effects of anxiety and depression and the risky behaviours that follow.
At StartOut Australia we are focusing on early interventions. We want to create a digital space that attracts young people and allows them to find good role models and good information. We hope that they can do this before depression and anxiety becomes a norm for them.
startout.org.au will be an authoritative source of good information for young people with a combination of our own content and the best content from around the web. It will be beautifully designed, easy to use, responsive and accessible from all devices.
It will be more than just a website though, at the heart of startout.org.au will be a vibrant, inclusive community, led by volunteer moderators. It will be a place where young people can learn from each other and share. Digital story-telling, discussion forums and live Q&A’s will all help to create a positive, supportive and inspiring experience. Young people will also be able to access and get referrals to professionals and services.
But really, that’s just the beginning. my.startout.org.au will be a game changing online mentoring platform where young people can work one on one with business and community leaders as mentors.
It will be a safe, technologically impressive and easy to use space that will facilitate the building of confidence, resilience and leadership skills as well as access to a supportive role model. At any time and from any place.
Is this where the sexy technology talked about on the site comes in?
We want this to be exciting and engaging for users and think the key is to making our online presence work is to use world class technology that is new and innovative.
We are talking to some of the biggest tech companies in the world to pull together some fantastic resources and build something awesome. The response from vendors and developers so far has been great and we hope to be able to use some of the newest social media, content sharing and consumer engagement software to create a digital space that people will want to keep using.
Our online space will use the latest user experience techniques and have the best of the best in digital security standards to ensure that everyone’s privacy is protected. We want our audience to feel they are in a safe and friendly environment at all times so they can be free to be themselves.
How will the charity function outside of this space?
StartOut Australia will deliver engaging education and advocacy programs that help young DSG people build their skills and confidence to best position them for the workforce. They’ll have the resilience to come out at work, navigate challenging conversations, avoid bullying and be strong contributors as they start out in life. We are currently co-creating our programs and platform with volunteers from a broad spectrum of the community and can’t wait to share more with you down the track.
Can we be part of this? What can we all do to help you Start Out?
We are so excited to be able to work with so many passionate people – you can put your hand up to volunteer in a variety ways on our volunteer pages at our website.
Right now we are in fundraising mode as well - we will need over 100k in the next 6-12 months to formalise our programs and put the right systems in place to make them work so we can start helping the people that need it. We are always keen to hear from anyone who is interested in donating, helping out, or joining our monthly giving program. If you are keen to be a part of something awesome, please get in touch!