The Queer Action Collective (QuAC), according to their Facebook group’s description, serves the political and social interests of queer students on campus, with an autonomous Queerspace that functions as a safe space. We, USyd’s queer people of colour, contend that both the space and the collective are white-centric and cliquey, despite the changes that management claims have been enacted. We feel a deep frustration with the lack of agency and voice afforded to us by the queer community on campus.
Several students have expressed that discomfort and intimidation are the main reasons behind their hesitation and refusal to use the space and join or contribute to the collective. Just by this factor, one can conclude that QuAC is failing in its mission to serve the interest of all students by alienating a subset of students in a way that reeks of racism and discrimination.
When contacted for comment, elected Queer Officer Connor Parissis cited QuAC’s attempts at inclusion as “cross-collaborated events throughout the year, including Pride Week and attempts to include Affirmative Action for Queer People Of Colour (and)… an incredibly strong stance against fascists and racists in our space… There is always room for improvement to be had in the Queerspace in terms of QTPOC and how they intersect the space and the movement, and we are always welcome to collective members to step up and create events that are intersectional and non-exclusionary.”
Relying on collective members to create intersectional events, when QPoC are made to feel excluded from the space, ensures that such events are unlikely to see the light of day. Eliza* tells me that when she ventured into the Queerspace she felt closeted, timid, and shut down. Talking to other people of colour, this sentiment is certainly shared and reiterated. The fact that I am writing this article for ACAR Honi and not for Queer Honi speaks volumes of the amount of trust PoC place in QuAC to ensure that our voice is heard. It is alarming that a space which claims to have safety and inclusion as its cornerstones has failed in these areas.
It falls to the community to educate themselves on how they can be more inclusive, and to take active steps to include and reach out to racial minorities. Several PoC gave suggestions for inclusive events for Pride Week, yet not a single PoC-targeted/specific event was run.
So, what can be done?
QuAC must have more events and more opportunities for people of colour to talk about their experiences, to aid people who are in situations where it may be dangerous or ‘taboo’ to be queer. For many QPoC, the cultural stigma attached to non-heteronormative orientations and non-binary genders is so great that it is not only mentally but physically unsafe for them to come out. For this reason, these people are most in need of help and reassurance. We need support groups run by PoC for PoC, and PoC speakers at events who can voice the difficulties of what it means to be both queer and a person of colour.
The Queerspace has a history of being a sexualised space, which can isolate people for cultural or religious reasons. QuAC has enacted a ban on sexual activity in the space this year. However, it will take much more to change the culture of the collective, which is a microcosm of the queer community in that it centres gay, white people.
Alex*, another QPoC I interviewed, summarised it best when they said, “Part of the problem is isolation, and it’s really difficult to talk about this kind of stuff with white people. Finding people like yourself,
and talking about your shared experiences is so helpful and would be a wonderful starting point. That’s when you start being able to see things like institutional racism.”
Past events which have been suggested have been dismissed due to concerns over low attendance numbers. The fact is, QPoC events will attract less people simply because the amount of QPoC who would be comfortable going to such an event is significantly less. This creates even more reason to run events for QPoC so that not only can they feel included but also be encouraged to interact more in the future.
I hope that these suggestions will be taken in the manner in which they are intended; with a strong focus on inclusivity and respecting the voices, experiences, and struggles of queer people of colour. It is time for QuAC to take a step back, to acknowledge what needs to change, and to make that change.
*Names have been changed.