«My ‘coming out’, I suppose, was asking my close group of school friends, ‘What would you say if I had feelings for a girl?’» she remembers, laughing that she expected «a little more shock» than they displayed.
The university student from Cabramatta, in Sydney, had previously tested the water with her parents, who came to Australia from Cambodia in the 1980s, but dropped the matter when things became too complicated.
«I [had] kind of asked my mum, ‘Oh, so a lot of people say these kinds of things are associated with girls who like girls. What if I like girls?’ And my mum just sort of said, ‘No, if you’re my daughter that wouldn’t happen.’»
Ultimately, it was through several different discussions with her mother and father that she managed to communicate how she felt. She feels being bisexual made things easier, as her parents know she is still attracted to men, as they expected of her.
Cabramatta is within the federal electorate of Fowler, one of 12 Sydney electorates which recorded a majority «no» vote in the 2017 same-sex marriage survey.
Survey data released by YouGov last week shows 84 per cent of LBGTIQA+ people believe there are still parts of Australia where it is unsafe to be LBGTIQA+.
A quarter of survey respondents expressed not being comfortable discussing their sexuality and gender identity with their loved ones (true for 75 per cent of people who felt this way) or friends (true for 72 per cent).
Ly says it was «kind of scary» to see the results but, although she occasionally has to have tough debates with people she knows about topics such as whether same-sex couples should be able to adopt, she has personally not felt unsafe.
«A lot of the conversations I was having with my friends were around our family members, many of whom came to Australia as refugees and have English that is maybe not the best … [and] resources [from the Yes campaign] weren’t coming to us in our language,» she says.
Remembering a friend’s mother misunderstanding a «yes» vote to mean a person had to have a same-sex marriage, Ly doubts the result is necessarily indicative of the level of hostility in her suburb, where ABS data shows 83 per cent of families speak a language other than English in the home.
«Although I did feel like there were people who were going out after the day of the announcement, after reading the results who just weren’t feeling quite as safe as they would be if they were born around Newtown.»
Duigan says although events such as Mardi Gras are fantastic for giving the LGBTIQA+ community a voice, the pressure to be out and proud can affect young people who might not be feeling confident in their identity in their community.
«[It] may be a really uncomfortable reminder for someone of where they are in their own journey in identifying with their family and friends as sexuality or gender diverse,» he says, noting that it can be particularly upsetting for young people from regional or remote areas or from communities where acceptance of the LGBTIQA+ community is «not where it should be».
«It can be a stark reminder of how different the world they live in is from the world they might see on TV or the radio.»
In addition, public events like Mardi Gras can be a cause of stress and anxiety for young people, and people of any age, who are not «out» in all spheres of their life.
«It’s a huge risk if their sexuality is exposed to a much wider audience than they wanted,» Duigan says, noting that it is important that young people feel «empowered» and like the process of inviting people to learn about their gender identity or sexuality occurs «at their own pace».
Statistics from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing estimated that 32 per cent of gay and bisexual people aged 16 and over in Australia met the criteria for an anxiety disorder the previous year, compared to 14 per cent of heterosexual people. The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found adults who identified as gay or bisexual were more than double as likely to self-report high or very high levels of psychological distress.
Although, Duigan says, young people should know that these mental health challenges are not caused by being LGBTIQA+.
«It’s not somebody’s gender identity or sexuality that is a risk for mental health challenges. It’s the discrimination, abuse, bullying, homophobia and transphobia: it’s all of those things that are the risk factor for mental health difficulties.»
Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
Mary Ward is Deputy Lifestyle Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.