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Supporting LGBTIQ Students and Staff

Joanna Connolly reports on the launch of the ALLY Network

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Last Tuesday, the rainbow flag was raised above the Sydney Quadrangle to applause and the pumping beats of Sia. The gesture marked the launch of the ALLY Network—a University initiative aimed at supporting the inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer students and staff.

It was star-studded as far as university events go. Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich was in attendance, along with the more conservative politicians Hon. Don Harwin and Trevor Khan. University heavyweights Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson and Vice Chancellor Michael Spence also made appearances, both speaking in support of the initiative.

Sydney is the latest of many universities to launch such an initiative. ALLY networks have been springing up around university campuses all over Australia, aiming to develop visible networks of students and staff who are allies of LGBTIQ identifying students.

I went to the launch event of Sydney’s version; but to be honest I learnt more about slick university marketing than I did about the substance of the network. As I understand it, Allies are not necessarily identifed as any particular sexuality or gender identity, but are trained in LGBTIQ issues. They work to make campus a more safe and welcoming place. In particular, they provide support— assisting the work already being done by queer people on campus, not overtaking it.

Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby gave the event’s keynote speech. Recalling his time as a student at the University, when he was President of both the SRC and the Union, Kirby refected on the struggle of spending that time closeted. His student career, extraordinarily successful by any standard, was marked by an inability to, as yet, be open about who he was. While his experience had been partly a product of his time, he hoped that times were changing —and that this network of committed staf and students was an indicator of that.

That hope, of course, relies upon the assumption that the ALLY Network actually represents a genuine commitment on the part of the university to support queer and trans people on campus. This was a concern alluded to by student speaker Oscar Monaghan. Polite but firm, he reminded the audience of the existing difficulties—some startlingly basic— that LGBTIQ students face, directly as a result of university policy and practice. The policies around name changes, for example, effectively force trans students to out themselves to tutors, or be outed, without their consent. Public spaces remain littered with queer-phobic slurs, often scrawled on top of queer-friendly signs intended to deter such hatred.

Evidently the launch of the ALLY Network is just a beginning. Those involved in the initiative should be commended, but here’s hoping this is the start of a much longer process of listening to and promoting the voices of queer students and staff.

To find out more about becoming an Ally, email: ally.network@sydney.edu.au.

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