Days after IDAHOBIT and Pride Week celebrations at Melbourne’s RMIT, students learnt that one of its lecturers Dr Caroline Norma was scheduled to speak on conversion therapy at an online forum organised by the conservative Australian Christian Lobby.
Dr Anastasia Powell, Associate Professor, senior lecturer Dr Larissa Sandy and associate lecturer Rebecca Hiscock – faculty members in the Criminology and Justices department decided they will not be “silent observers”. Along with 50 colleagues at RMIT they penned an open letter in support of LGBTQI rights and against the discriminatory conversion practises that claim, falsely, to change a person’s gender identity or expression or sexual identity. In a matter of days over a 130 academics from all over Australia signed the open letter.
Dr Anastasia Powell and Larissa Sandy spoke to Star Observer over a video call about how a show of support for LGBTQI students and staff at RMIT is now finding nation-wide endorsement from academics.
“We wanted to ensure that there would be no question for our LGBTQI staff and students at RMIT that we stand with them, with their rights, with their inclusion and well being. We didn’t want our silence to be associated with any view that denies them their rights and full and equal participation in our university life, and that’s what’s really prompted everyone to come together on this,” says Powell.
From the beginning, according to Sandy, the aim was to go beyond an individual’s view on the discredited practise of conversion therapy. “Major Australian organisations, medical bodies and psychological associations have all come out with public statements declaring that conversion therapy is completely discredited, that it is unscientific, not evidence based and that it is grounded in discrimination and harm and bigotry. And so we outright reject any position that would align itself with supporting (conversion therapy),” says Sandy.
They pointed out that RMIT has been trying to create inclusive policies and culture. In 2019 it was recognised as employer of the year for LGBTQI inclusion. “We are doing a lot of work to make sure that our courses and teaching curriculum is inclusive and not discriminatory in its content… we’re looking at things like sexual assaults on campus as well and making sure that (there are) measures in place around it to support students,” says Sandy.
Powell says that it was important to make it very clear to students that the faculty was willing to use their academic privilege to support legislative measures in Victoria and other states to ban conversion therapy.
Sandy hopes the open letter will also create awareness in the general public about how exactly conversion therapy is practised and its impact on young minds. “The general public might not be very aware about … the controversial aspects of conversion therapy, and just how harmful they are physically, psychologically”.
Tell our leaders to end conversion practises in Australia
If you are an academic based in Australia and want to support the open letter, sign the petition here. https://forms.gle/F2gdaGMEzzr1BUP98
Not an academic? You can still support the call to end conversion practices and support LGBTQI inclusion. Sign the online petition by Equality Australia and “tell our leaders that LGBTQI people deserve to live their lives without harm or fear that they need to be ‘fixed’.