Published by the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra


Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

What I’ve learned after 12 years fighting on the frontline

Jun 7, 2024 | Commentary, Equality, LGBTIAQ+, Gender, Career, Activism, Cultural politics, Feature

Written by Philippa Moss

As I step down from my role at Meridian – Canberra’s leading LGBTIQA+ organisation – after 12 years, I reflect on how we can priorities lived experience in policy, research and service delivery.

How we talk about lived experience is critical. It defines how we engage with and prioritise the development of lived experience in policy, research, and service delivery.

Meridian is an organisation with lived experience at its heart.  The importance of peer leadership in LGBTIQA+ community organisations like Meridian is increasingly intersectional. This means that leaders within these groups are not only addressing issues specific to sexual orientation and gender identity but are also navigating and integrating other significant aspects of identity and experience, such as disability, mental health, and homelessness, to name a few. I had always assumed that these intersecting lived experiences were static phenomena: a person was either disabled or they weren’t, a person was either homeless or they weren’t.

However, I have come to understand that these experiences are far more fluid and dynamic. For instance, someone might struggle with mental health issues at one point in their life and experience homelessness at another, or they might be managing a disability while also facing challenges related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This evolving understanding highlights the necessity for peer leaders to be adaptable and empathetic, as they support community members whose needs and circumstances can change over time. Peer leaders with lived experience in these intersecting areas can offer unique insights and support, fostering a more inclusive and responsive community organization that better serves its diverse members.

While I am a privileged white woman, you might wonder how I can comment on these issues—I am queer and I have lived experience of disability  – am I an imposter? This is a question I often grapple with. The concept of imposter syndrome is not uncommon, especially when addressing issues that intersect with identities and experiences different from our own. However, acknowledging my privilege and the limitations it may impose on my understanding is crucial. It compels me to approach these topics with humility and a willingness to listen and learn from those directly impacted by them.

Engaging in these discussions isn’t about speaking for others but about amplifying the voices of those who might not have the same platform. It’s about leveraging my privilege to support and advocate for a more inclusive and equitable community. By recognizing my positionality, I strive to be a better ally, continuously educating myself and working alongside those who face these challenges firsthand. This process is ongoing and requires a commitment to self-reflection and growth, ensuring that my involvement is both respectful and constructive.

Phillippa, centre rear, is passionate about working alongside peer leaders with lived experience.

Phillippa, centre rear, among the Ainslie Football Club promo for the pride round. Picture: Supplied

Meridian employs staff who have lived experience and use this openly, appropriately, and effectively to build professional relationships with the people they work with. Lived experience is used to inform and contribute to staff culture and encourage community understanding and reduction of stigma and discrimination for all affected communities.

Without lived experience, there may be a lack of deep empathy and understanding of the challenges and nuances faced by the community.  Services and supports may be less effective when both designed and delivered.  Without the perspective of lived experience, there is a risk of inadvertently reinforcing stigma and discrimination.

Staff may unknowingly perpetuate harmful stereotypes or fail to challenge societal biases, leading to environments that are not fully inclusive or supportive.  An absence of lived experience can lead to a homogeneity of perspectives within the organisation. Diverse experiences bring diverse solutions and innovations. Without this diversity, the organisation may become stagnant, relying on outdated or ineffective practices.

Policymakers cannot speak for other people when they have never walked in their shoes. Without lived experience decisions are informed by assumptions and, in some cases, bias and stereotyping. Truly effective initiatives must be based on the real lives of those they aim to serve   Lived experience enriches an organisations approach, making it more empathetic, effective, inclusive and capable of fostering trust and driving change.

I would like to see the narrative change – Lived experience is what people personally know and understand from experiencing specific situations or events themselves. It includes the insights, perspectives, and emotions gained and felt from firsthand encounters with different aspects of life. This might include health issues, living with disability, experiences of drug use, homelessness, cultural dynamics, or any other lived reality.

For example, someone with a mental health condition can share insights about the challenges of dealing with the mental healthcare system, the stigma around mental illness, and the everyday struggles of managing their well-being.

Similarly, someone who has experienced homelessness can provide firsthand perspectives on the barriers to accessing housing, the impact of socioeconomic factors, and the need for supportive services.

This lived experience is authentic and rich. It’s a powerful resource with depth that captures the nuances and intricacies of individual journeys. Incorporating lessons learned from lived experience into policymaking, research, and service delivery is crucial to more empathetic, inclusive, practical, and effective outcomes. It ensures decision-makers understand the realities faced by those directly affected by the issues.

In the research space, for example, lived experience enriches the quality and relevance of studies. Quantitative data provides valuable insights but often fails to capture the full spectrum of humanity. By using qualitative methods and including people with firsthand experience, researchers can better understand their subjects’ real lives. This helps create more relevant interventions and ensures that the findings connect with the individuals and communities they aim to understand.

It’s our collective responsibility to create space for all individuals’ voices—especially those from marginalised communities—to be heard and valued.

This is a call to action, but it doesn’t exist in isolation. The ongoing discussion about how lived experience should inform public policy, research, and service delivery has a long way to go. We have many challenges to overcome, including representation, power dynamics, and the need for support and compensation for individuals sharing their experiences.

But only by embracing the full diversity of human experience can we create policies, conduct research, and deliver services that genuinely meet the needs of all individuals and communities.

*Picture at top: Supplied  


Philippa Moss

Philippa Moss is an entrepreneur and professional feminist, best known for her outspoken voice promoting healthy public policy and healthy urban development. She is a proud mother of two children, a son and daughter in their twenties, who as a Queer parent has always felt a part of Canberra’s greater Lesbian, Gay and Queer community. In 2015 she was awarded the ACT Telstra Business Women’s Award for Purpose and Social Enterprise, along with the Australian Institute of Management’s Not for Profit Manager of the Year (ACT) award.

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