December 2020

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A new video launched by Advance Diversity Services offers insights into the struggles faced by LGBTIQA+ people of faith from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds as they try to reconcile their faith, culture and queer identity, and to find service providers that understand the complexity of their predicament.

The Pride in My Faith video is a vital educational resource for community and other service providers and was conceived and produced by ADS Manager for Settlement and Community Services, Anthony Scerri, and ADS LGBTI Officer, Mayna Hung.

‘We wanted to show LGBTIQA+ people of faith from CALD backgrounds who are struggling with these challenges that they are not alone,’ said Ms Hung. ‘Pride in My Faith offers candid testimony from three CALD LGBTIQA+ people of faith about how they bring their sexual diversity, faith and culture together.’

Mr Scerri said religion and culture are often entwined, which meant LGBTIQA+ people from CALD backgrounds can feel rejected by their religion or may cease practising a religion altogether due to its conflict with their sexual minority status.

‘The video demonstrates that there are LGBTIQA+ people from CALD backgrounds who have felt this rejection but ultimately found concord between their religion and their sexuality and are living their lives with spiritual purpose.’

Ms Hung said service providers needed to understand the complexity of the barriers to inclusion LGBTIQA+ people from CALD backgrounds face and also how to welcome them appropriately and refer them to groups and specialist services for support.

‘Through Pride in My Faith we highlight a range of LGBTIQA+ faith-based groups that LGBTIQA+ people can connect with. Some of these groups are outlined in the LGBTIQA+ Services Directory ADS has developed, and which can accessed here.’

The video was made by cinematographer Bebi Zekirovski and funded by the NSW Settlement Partnership – a consortium of community organisations, led by Settlement Services International.

The three people who shared their stories onscreen are: Ahmed a gay, cisgender (male) Muslim from a Pakistani background; Tina (pictured) a bisexual, cisgender (female) Buddhist from a Bengali and Afghan background, and Matthew a bisexual, cisgender (male) Roman Catholic from a Chinese Malaysian background.

Ahmed said that in the Muslim community there was now more visibility of queer Muslims who were talking about being accepted. ‘That being said,’ he added ‘a vast majority of people have homophobic views and that is something we have to overcome over time.’

Tina said it was important for people to know a little about how trauma works – to understand how to identify their own trauma and make an action plan to ensure it does not continue to have a negative impact.

Matthew said referring people to groups and service providers was ‘not always a bad idea’, and that connecting people to an organisation so they can see there ‘are people like them’ was really important.

Part of the funding from the NSW Settlement Partnership (NSP) also included rolling out general LGBTIQA+ inclusive practice training to NSP organisations. ACON’s Pride Training team facilitated four, two-part webinars attended by 81 staff from across the partnership in October 2020.

At the end of the training participants were asked ‘What would be the next steps that on a personal level you are going to take towards inclusion and diversity?’

One respondent said, ‘You realise how people are being left out – from service promotion to intake to feedback – and that we need to review every aspect of our services delivery to ensure inclusive practice.’

Another said, ‘I will share my knowledge and understanding with my clients and other community members. I will also amend policy and procedure, develop new intake forms, and provide a safe, comfortable and welcoming environment.’

Mr Scerri said the Pride in My Faith video plus ACON’s eLearning and webinars would help service providers to better understand the communities they serve, and to be equipped to work with LGBTIQA+ people in ways that were supportive and empowering rather than damaging.

The Pride in My Faith video can be viewed here.

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Shymaa Khalifa began as a volunteer with ADS in February 2020, went on to complete a student placement, and then returned to volunteering. She says the friendly and educative environment at ADS frees her to be her best self – and is assisting her to achieve her goal to be a DV case worker.

What drew you to volunteer and/or to do your student placement with ADS?

I heard about the programs ADS provided for new migrants and was really keen to be a part of them. I started as a volunteer, then applied to have my work placement with ADS. After finishing my hours as a student, I was back to being a volunteer. The friendly yet educative environment was what encouraged me the most. As a new migrant myself, being a part of ADS diverse staff is a great opportunity to learn more about community without the fear of being judged or belittled.

What are you studying and where?  How has your personal history and/or your cultural background informed your work with ADS?

I’m a Diploma of Community Services student with TAFE St George. I came to Australia in 2018. Starting to familiarise myself with professional work places was an intimidating step for me. So, coming to volunteer with ADS and being able to be myself was a gift.

I have been always interested in community services (CS) but with no chance to practise my interests in my country, so coming to ADS and working in inspiring programs such as Specialised Intensive Services (SIS), Settlement Engagement and Transition Support (SETS), and the Domestic Violence (DV) pilot is considered my actual first opportunity to put my deep interest in CS in action.

What ADS programs have you assisted with and how have you been encouraged to apply your studies and expand your skills in your role?

I assisted with SIS, SETS, Emergency Relief (ER)and DV pilot. Under the constructive supervision I was able understand more about grants, funding, different visas and more and more about refugees and asylum seekers. As a diploma student, just studying case management was at some point not enough to see the whole picture. Assisting in the SIS program practically expanded my vision on what case management actually means. I saw that to have a client with complex needs, SIS addresses these needs elaborately. I also learnt how the case worker can work with the client on a case management plan to achieve the client’s goal before the Exit stage.

What has been the most challenging work you have done with ADS during your time as a volunteer and student on placement?

One challenge for me was understanding the limitations of every service, mostly due to funding.

What strengths have you brought to your role / placement?

My strengths are: being a keen learner who wants to know more about community services in Australia from different views; my lived experience as a new migrant; and being a bilingual person

What has been your proudest moment, greatest achievement, deepest connection in your time at ADS? 

I still remember my first meeting with a client who identifies as LGBTIQ+ and she looked at me with doubt but how, now, she would answer my calls with enthusiasm and discuss anything with me with trust.

‘Be You with Us’ is ADS’ tagline, and it reflects the organisation’s commitment to welcoming and accepting everyone of all ages, gender, culture, sexuality, and religious beliefs. How have you been encouraged to ‘Be You with Us’ during your time with ADS?

I felt so supported all the time to express my ideas, practice my prayers and ask if I don’t understand anything. As a parent, I’m always able to put my family and my children first and never worry about work when I’m home.

What more should the Australian Government be doing to welcome migrants and refugees and to ensure they find the support they need to adjust quickly and well to life in Australia?

It is a priority for the government to provide more relevant and comprehensive orientation programs for newcomers on all kinds of visas.

What is your ultimate goal and how has the work you’ve done with ADS equipped you for what you would like to do next?

My goal is to work as a DV case worker. Working with ADS and with its SIS and DV pilot programs gave me a lot of relevant experience in this area.

I love ADS because … I can be the ‘best me’ there.

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Sharon Yuan began as a volunteer with ADS in June 2019 and went on to complete a student placement from August 10 to December 4, 2020. She says these experiences have been instrumental in helping her to develop confidence, skills, and understanding as a future social worker who will serve migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other people in need in Australian communities.

What drew you to volunteer and/or to do your student placement with ADS?

I was drawn to ADS as I wanted to understand more about the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers and the barriers and challenges they face during their settlement journey in Australia.

What are you studying and where?  How has your personal history and/or your cultural background informed your work with ADS?

I am completing a Bachelors of Social Work at the University of Sydney. As I grew up in a Chinese speaking family, I am able to speak basic Cantonese and Mandarin. Because of this I was able to provide basic Cantonese interpreting to clients of ADS and build rapport with Chinese clients through a sense of relatedness and understanding of Chinese culture.

What ADS programs have you assisted with and how have you been encouraged to apply your studies and expand your skills in your role?

During my time at ADS, I have been a part of the Specialised Intensive Services (SIS) Program where I developed skills in providing case management to clients with complex and compounding needs, and providing support to clients through education and capacity building. Through this program, I have gained a greater understanding of the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers, who are forcibly displaced and arrive in Australia with a history of trauma and complex circumstances but are also met with multiple barriers and challenges during settlement.

I have been managing the Emergency Relief (ER) Program at ADS where I have developed the skills to assess and identify client needs to provide financial aid and to make relevant referrals to services. The ER program has allowed me to see the direct impacts of COVID-19 on many families and has helped me to develop my ability to analyse and evaluate complex situations, to think quickly on my feet and adapt to a variety of new situations.

The impact of COVID-19 has changed the way we interact and communicate with each other. I have been providing support to our community officers in the Settlement Engagement and Transition Support (SETS) Program to co-host Zoom sessions, which help them stay connected with their reference groups. My time at ADS has allowed me to understand the importance of community in building social connection and a sense of belonging for many migrant groups.

What has been the most challenging work you have done with ADS during your time as a volunteer and student on placement?

One of the most challenging cases during my time with ADS would have to be advocating on behalf of the client but being unable to reach a common goal with the other party. This was challenging as I felt the other party was not willing to accommodate to the needs of the client who required language support when being talked to. Through discussions with the ADS team, I was able to connect with another person from the service that was able to assist with this matter.

What strengths have you brought to your role / placement?

Strengths that I have brought to my role while on placement include communication skills, my ability as a team player and my openness to learning. The values that underpin the way I work with people include compassion, respect and inclusivity.

What has been your proudest moment, greatest achievement, deepest connection in your time at ADS? 

I came to ADS with no experience in advocacy and, from the support and guidance from my field educator, I was able to gain confidence in advocating on behalf of a client. One of my proudest moments was when I was able to effectively communicate the complex needs of the client to an anaesthetist and get a large medical bill reduced for the client who was in financial hardship.

‘Be You with Us’ is ADS’ tagline, and it reflects the organisation’s commitment to welcoming and accepting everyone of all ages, gender, culture, sexuality, and religious beliefs. How have you been encouraged to ‘Be You with Us’ during your time with ADS?

Through my time at ADS, I have seen the extraordinary work the organisation does with CALD communities and their ongoing commitment to inclusivity. I have been welcomed by the team since the day I arrived and seeing the way the ADS team works inspires me to always strive to deliver care that is collaborative, respectful and inclusive.

What more should the Australian Government be doing to welcome migrants and refugees and to ensure they find the support they need to adjust quickly and well to life in Australia?

I feel the Australian Government should treat refugees and migrants equally as people and provide more opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers to settle in Australia. There also needs to be more funding into settlement services for refugees and migrants so they are able to develop knowledge and skill to access services to improve wellbeing and life outcomes. Also, since the impact of Covid-19, there needs to be more support for international students and those on temporary visas to access assistance as they have become one of the most vulnerable groups during the pandemic.

What is your ultimate goal and how has the work you’ve done with ADS equipped you for what you would like to do next?

My ultimate goal was to become more confident and prepared as I enter the social work field – and I have achieved this. Through my placement at ADS I was able to further develop my skills as a future social worker, understand the key issues that affect newly arrived migrants and refugees and gain knowledge on how I can work in a culturally responsive and inclusive manner.

I love ADS because … of the amazing team! I have been welcomed by the whole team since day one and I am endlessly thankful for the support I have received during my time here at ADS.