Setting foot on a university campus can be daunting for school leavers, and another layer of complexity is usually added for those questioning their gender or sexuality.

Following the lead of other Australian universities, La Trobe University is hoping to make the process a lot smoother for GLBT students and staff by setting up a gay-straight alliance program.

Launched by La Trobe Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson at the Melbourne campus last week, the Ally program provides diversity training for students and staff to create a safe environment for GLBT people on campus.

La Trobe Equity Diversity Services coordinator Shannon Kerrigan told Southern Star Observer the La Trobe Ally model is based on a similar program run by the University of Western Australia which was established in 2002.

“The University of Western Australia has just completed an evaluation of the scheme and it seemed like an effective model that would work well at La Trobe,” Kerrigan said.

The ally concept originating in the US which has gay-straight alliance programs operating in schools and universities across the country.

Now with 250 allies on campus, UWA last year won a [email protected] Award for proactively creating a GLBT-inclusive culture.

Kerrigan said La Trobe — which is home to the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society and auspices Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria — wanted to do more to encourage GLBT inclusion.

It decided to act after posters were torn down in the student queer space last year and reports of homophobic harassment on campus emerged.

“While there can be a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion, this is a way of taking action in the area,” Kerrigan said.

“Some students, with their experience in the past, can still feel shame in coming out and students can wonder if this is a sensitive environment or not, will their peers react positively or negatively.

“This way, having an ally program makes it okay, and [says] La Trobe does support GLTB staff and students and we can focus on the positives.”

So far, 60 La Trobe staff have received diversity training on issues affecting  GLBT people.
“It’s also about having conversations about curricula,” Kerrigan said.

“We have some courses that involve keeping a journal. You want students to feel like they can include what they did on the weekend and feel safe saying they spent it with their boyfriend or girlfriend.”

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