National Youth Week 2016 – an interview with Jacob Thomas
Could you please elaborate more on your work within the LGBTQIA+ community, including how you first got started in this line of work and what you are currently focusing on?
In 2010 I lost a friend to suicide, and I had a subsequent breakdown shortly after. Once I had taken the time to get myself somewhat back together, I started looking for opportunities to combat the shame our community feels in relation to who we are. I wanted to combat the high level of poor mental health and suicide completion we see each year, particularly among our young LGBTQIA+ community. I found an opportunity with It Gets Better Australia and eventually became the Chief Operating Officer of the nationally affiliated project. After leaving the organisation in 2015 I’ve been slowly working on developing a program with my business partner, Neo, which uses live data to identify safe, accessible and peer-reviewed health services around the country for the entire LGBTQIA+ community. We’re starting with GPs and aim to launch in Victoria this year, with further rollout from 2017. I’m also currently working with the Commonwealth Youth and Gender Equality Network (CYGEN), a dedicated group of young people working with young people across the Commonwealth toward equality for people of all genders. As a youth expert, I focus on LGBTQIA+ human rights, youth participation, and the importance of civil society. There’s also my working as an Ambassador for JOY 94.9’s Schools OUT Loud project, giving young LGBTQIA+ people and their allies an opportunity to build their live radio skills.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I like a challenge, as well as understanding peoples’ stories. Working in these fields requires you to have a deep and thorough understanding of who people are as whole beings. Working toward a status of equality means you have to take the time in knowing everything you can about people and their experiences. What about them compliments the end goal and what contradicts it. We know that people aren’t just their gender identities or just their sexualities. They’re people with names, goals, cultures, and lived histories. The challenge is giving time to understanding the whole story and working from there.
Who are some of the people that inspire you?
My mum is right up there. She’s a pretty wonderful individual and is good at calling me out when I start to doubt myself. Mum is that voice of critical reality I need every now and again when I’ve lost sight of what matters. She inspires me to do what I can, when I can, and to take a break when I need it. Mum’s my number one hero, champion, argument-inducer, hard-ass, and Bae.
What would you consider to be your biggest achievements so far?
Waking up one day realising that I’m good enough to be here and that suicide wasn’t my only choice. Also that I had the capacity to do something that would make a difference in the lives of others, most of whom I’ll never meet. Also, being awarded as one of the Queen’s Young Leaders for 2016. It’s nice to be congratulated by someone of that caliber for what you do. Not necessary, but it definitely leaves a warm fuzzy feeling.
Completing my Masters of Human Rights, which I started this year, and get some more reading done are two big ones. I’ll also be a published academic writer this year, and I might aim for more of that in future. The reality for me is that I didn’t think I’d be doing any of this until I was in my later stages of life. Everything from here isn’t so much a life goal, it’s a bonus.
If you had unlimited powers to implement three immediate changes in regard to gender inequality, what would they be?
1) Universal access to free global education and respectful healthcare
2) Full respect and dignity for all women, girls and gender minorities
3) An end to gender-based violence and discrimination that acknowledges the intersecting factors in individual experiences
Would you like to say anything else?
As a young person, you have a unique opportunity today to do something meaningful. You have the opportunity to be a better leader than those who have come before you. We need you to show up and be there, so start showing up if you haven’t done so already. And if you have, then keep taking the time to learn and grow. You’ve got this.