WESTERN Australia, LaTrobe and Sydney universities were three of a number of campuses singled out for praise in the first-ever index of LGBTI inclusion at Australia’s universities.
However, organisers have cautioned many still have “a long way to go”, with Australia’s higher education sector yet to catch up to the UK when it comes to providing support to LGBTI students.
The research found that while most universities had student societies and staff ally networks were on 59 per cent of campuses, no institution monitored LGBTI student numbers and health information for LGBTI students was only found at 15 per cent of institutions.
NSW GLRL convenor Justin Koonin said universities were assessed on information publicly available to mirror the experience of a prospective student researching which campus to apply to.
However, many universities had scant information, leaving LGBTI students in the dark.
“It’s no use having policies if your polices are in the closet, so to speak,” he said.
“If universities are doing good things we want to know about it and this is a good incentive to tell us.”
The University of New South Wales (UNSW), Queensland University of Technology, Swinburne, Sunshine Coast and Wollongong universities were also commended.
The University of Queensland’s bursaries for disadvantaged LGBTI students and Curtin University’s work placement program with LGBTI-friendly employers were highlighted as innovative initiatives.
However, Koonin said support for trans* and intersex students was behind that for their lesbian, gay and bisexual counterparts.
One-in-five universities did not reflect the Sex Discrimination Act in their harassment policies, usually by leaving out reference to trans* and intersex people, while only 29 per cent allowed students to administratively change gender.
“If you want to include trans* and intersex people you can’t just a stick and T and an I on the end of your documents,” Koonin said.
“You have to do something different because the needs are not the same as for lesbian, gay, bisexual people.”
Koonin said while a number of universities were going to considerable lengths, “there’re substantially more universities with a long way to go and even our best fall behind their peers in the UK”.
Wilson said university was a life-affirming experience for LGBTI people, including him.
“After going through the trials and social pressure of high school, university is often the first opportunity to breathe your first breath,” he said.
“It was the opportunity, for the first time in my life, to be who I was not who others wanted me to be.”
Wilson said the guide didn’t look for special treatment for LGBTI students but rather aimed to encourage universities to support everyone equally.
“It is cultural change that moves a society from being informally exclusive to becoming inclusive and that is what the Australian LGBTI University Guide seeks to achieve,” he said.
“For young people [the guide] gives them hope that universities are safe and welcoming environments for LGBTI people.”
Wilson encouraged the next index to have a full league table of Australia’s best and worst institutions.
UNSW queer officer Jen Chen said the ability to be open about her sexuality has been fundamental to her university experience.
“Universities are realising that it is no longer a choice of being accepting and supportive towards LGBTI students,” she said.
“It is a necessity.”
The Australian LGBTI University Guide can be found at lgbtuniguide.org.au.