Ausnew Home Care | Hobart Human Library tackling racism, stereotypes and discrimination with the power of story

Hobart Human Library tackling racism, stereotypes and discrimination with the power of story

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"Oh hey, I'm transgendered," is how Andy Gall begins his story as part of the Hobart Human Library.

Another storyteller, Paul Pritchard, explains he is a former world-class mountaineer who became mentally and physically disabled after a falling rock hit his skull. 

But to his listeners, most of them school children, Paul expresses gratitude for the perspective and strength he now has when dealing with frequent discrimination, humiliation and even physical abuse.

Paul human library
Paul Pritchard was a world-class mountaineer before an accident left him with disabilities.()

Jasper Godden joined the project to take ownership of a challenging upbringing that led to his diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD), while child abuse survivor Natasha Lahey's drive stems from being one of the lucky ones able to talk about her trauma.

Andy, Paul, Natasha and Jasper are just four of 86 Tasmanian "human books," trained to share their experiences in schools and workplaces by Hobart-based organisation A Fairer World to help dismantle stereotypes and build inclusive communities.

Walking, talking books

Jasper explains BPD is characterised by extreme mood swings and fear of abandonment, often negatively impacting relationships.

"Every time you think you may be abandoned by someone you care about, you do these adverse behaviours to not be abandoned," he said.

"There's mood swings and extreme swings in your interpersonal relationships.

BPD and mental health are some of the many topics covered by the Human Library — topics Jasper said were complex to communicate, especially with kids.

A male in his mid 20s in a stripy jumper and black beanie sits in front of a rainbow striped-wall and smiles.
Jasper Godden, 27, lives with borderline personality disorder.()

He believes putting a face to the topics is the best first step, as it encourages understanding of individuals in their entirety, rather than stereotyping.

"I could just give someone the diagnostic criteria [for BPD] and from that you would understand that this is a difficult thing [to have]," Jasper said.

"But when students and adults in workplaces, who maybe have these negative ideas of someone like me … they can sit there and look at me, hear me talk about my life experience, and then they interact with me in the question time. 

"They get to see that I'm a fully well-rounded, three-dimensional person, and it's easier to develop compassion.

"And if they meet somebody else with borderline, they can remember me."

In his talks in schools and workplaces, Jasper describes BPD as "sustained long-term trauma while the brain is still developing, instead of a one-off traumatic event."

For him, that trauma was caused by oppression of his identity, thoughts and opinions growing up.

"So before you're the age of 24, you kind of consistently have things happening that lead your behaviours to react to that," he said.

The powerful history of storytelling

Researchers have recorded the impact of stories on communities, with one 2023 study in the Journal of Community Development noting the success of storytelling events in forming new connections and supporting mutual understanding. It also found that for those with minority backgrounds, telling their stories can be empowering.

The Human Library concept was created in Denmark by youth non-governmental organisation Stop the Violence in 2000 and now exists in over 80 countries. The Hobart Human Library began in 2008, runs at least 50 sessions a year and puts people from marginalised groups at the centre of change-making.

This year, it will visit 54 schools.

There are multiple human libraries around Australia, including two in Tasmania in Hobart and Launceston.

A group of diverse people stand in front of an A Fairer World banner and smile at the camera
The library will visit over 50 schools around Tasmania this year, including many in rural areas.()

The study in the Journal of Community Development found the impact on listeners was highly dependent on the proficiency of event facilitators in ensuring confidence of storytellers.

In Hobart, Jasper said the organisation trained its "human books" to be confident and to manage difficult questions.

Leading the way with lived experience

The Human Library runs question-and-answer-style inclusion forums, visiting schools to build more inclusive cultures and break down barriers to student participation — such as discrimination and bullying.

In workplaces, it encourages systemic change by co-designing inclusive policies with them.

A Fairer World's education leader Jodie Epper said listening to people with lived experience helped workplaces implement policy change.

"We really centralise that lived experience, which makes us different to every other organisation that delivers workplace inclusion," she said.

For example, by working with A Fairer World, Service Tasmania staff developed quick reference guides for respectful language, changes to forms, signage and access, as well as a guide on how to identify and call out disrespectful behaviour.

Helen Hortle has organised the Hobart Human Library to visit schools.
Helen Hortle says most organisations are only just starting out on their workplace diversity journeys.()

However, A Fairer World coordinator Helen Hortle said measuring meaningful diversity and inclusion in workplaces was difficult, as "most organisations are only just starting our on their journeys."

"There is ticking boxes and reaching quotas, but measuring true diversity — that is, whether someone feels included, whether they feel like they belong — is more difficult," she said.

In a first for the library this week at St Helen's High School on Tasmania's east coast, Jodie from A Fairer World said one grade 10 student stood up to give an impromptu thanks.

"We had a young man who spontaneously thanked all the books for coming, said what special people they were, and how important the work they were doing was. It was just gorgeous."


Source: ABC

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