LGBTQI students are at high risk of mental health problems, including anxiety disorders and depression. Queer specific initiatives are being introduced at Australian Universities to combat the statistics.

Matthew Allen is an LGBTQI ally at Deakin University, a concept introduced to the University in 2017. As an ally, he is trained to provide support to LGBTQI staff and students.

“Universities that are safe, encourage people to do whatever work they need to, to overcome stigma, to be proud, to have pride in their identity, and the more that that happens, the more that I think our society is a safer, kinder and basically more inclusive place”, Allen says.

Data from the national study on the sexual health and wellbeing of LGBTQI young people, Writing Themselves In 3, suggests that same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse young people are more likely to feel safe and less likely to engage in self-harm or attempt suicide in schools that have introduced policies and practices that recognise and value sexual and gender diversity.

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Universities, as spaces that push the frontiers of knowledge, play a vital role in achieving the inclusion of LGBTQI people in society. Allen says that “institutional change and structural transformation that focuses on valuing everybody for who they are, not who society says they should be, whether we are indigenous, person of colour, Queer, whatever, shows that all perspectives matter.”

University can be a trying time for students coming to terms with their sexuality. Caitlin Fox, a member of the Queer Department at Melbourne University where weekly events are run for LGBTQI students, says that Queer Space gives students “the opportunity to communicate with people, not having to be self censoring, and not having to inhibit the way that we interact with each other.

“When you get to a point where that (sexuality) is something that you are navigating and something that is really weighing down on you, it becomes something really heavy that you carry with you all the time, in every conversation with everybody.”

The Australian Human Rights Commision reports that 42% of LGBTQI individuals hide their sexuality at social and community events. Queer Space is a place where students can feel comfortable to be open about their sexuality without the fear of rejection.

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Poom Sangruang, who is also member of the Queer Department at Melbourne University, says that “it is always put that ‘there are other people like you’ or ‘lots of people go through this’, but until you really see it, until you really have that support, that physical support there, it is a lot harder – once you see it and experience it it’s like this real, this is life.

“Having this space available where you can discuss it, where you can kind of talk through your ideas, and kind of the plan going ahead if you do decide to come out, or strategies for dealing with any anxieties that you may have, is just really really healthy.

LGBTQI specific initiatives at universities help students to realise that “there is no good and bad, just difference”, and that difference is okay.

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