Students at one of Melbourne’s premier institutions RMIT have expressed concerns following the decision by a lecturer to speak on gay conversion therapy at an online panel discussion organised by the conservative Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).

Dr Caroline Norma, who is identified as a “radical, left-wing, lesbian activist”, is a lecturer for the Master of Translating and Interpreting degree at the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies.

Norma has courted controversy in the past for views against sex workers, the trans rights movement and had also exhorted “fellow Australian lesbians” to vote ‘No’  in the 2017 national vote on same sex marriages to protest the conservative institution of marriage.

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Norma had in 2018 faced a boycott by delegates at the Historical Materialism Sydney Conference for “transphobia and anti-sex worker rhetoric”.

In 2017, during the National vote on same sex marriages, Norma penned opinion pieces encouraging a ‘No’vote.

Norma has even gone so far as to term modern lesbian and gay lives as people pursuing “a genital fetish“.

RMIT University Students Union’s (RUSU) Queer Department have urged the administration to intervene and take action in the interest of its LGBTQI students and staff.

RMIT said that since it had no involvement in the ACL forum or details of its agenda, they were unable to comment on the content or views of any speakers. A spokesperson for RMIT told Star Observer that they are looking into the matter.

“We have been made aware of an Australian Christian Lobby online forum scheduled for June, where an RMIT academic is listed as a panellist. We are currently looking into the matter, in line with RMIT’s intellectual freedom policy. RMIT remains as committed as ever to being a place that values diversity and inclusion and provides a safe and respectful environment to work and study,” the spokesperson said.

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The ACL’s online forum seems to be in response to the Victorian government last year proposing to bring in legislation to ban the harmful and unscientific practise of gay conversion therapy.

The ACL’s online panel discussion – Gay Conversion Therapy Forum – lists Norma, Professor John Whitehall, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Western Sydney and Murray Campbell, lead pastor of Mentone Baptist Church as speakers. “This online forum will explore the major concerns around the proposed ban (by Victoria on conversion therapy) , and the actions we can take in the meantime,” ACL has said on its website.

Norma’s position on gay conversion therapy is not available. Star Observer has contacted the lecturer on email and will update this story when Norma responds.

Given the lecturer’s previous statements, the student queer community is worried. “The participation of Dr Caroline Norma in this panel as a representative of RMIT University directly contradicts the RMIT’s Diverse Genders, Sexes, and Sexualities Action Plan,” said RUSU Queer in a post on its Facebook page.

It urged “RMIT to step in and take action to support LGBTQIA+ staff and students and to investigate whether Dr. Caroline Norma’s participation is in keeping with RMIT’s obligation to foster the wellbeing of students and staff, as required in the university Intellectual Freedom Policy.”

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RUSU Queer Department said that the ACL’s online session posed a serious risk to LGBTQI students and staff. “RMIT carries huge responsibility for the well-being and safety of everyone across campus, especially staff and students that identity as LGBTQIA+, queer or questioning. RMIT should also hold accountable the actions of students and staff that are representing the university,” the group stated.

RUSU Queer reaffirmed its committement in supporting the queer and gender diverse student community. “RUSU Queer questions any validity of ethical guidelines with regards to the topic at hand. RUSU Queer acknowledges that this forum may be harmful to the health of our community. As such, we urge the parties involved in this forum, including RMIT and the lecturer, to exercise compassion and be mindful of our diverse community and refrain from taking part in such a harmful narrative.”

RMIT pointed out that in 2019, it was recognised as employer of the year for LGBTIQA+ inclusion. “We are proud to support the staff and students within our community who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning or asexual/agender (LGBTIQA+). Reflecting the diversity of our community beyond the ‘LGBTIQA+’ label, RMIT refers to people of ‘diverse genders, sexes, and sexualities’ (DGSS). RMIT aims to be a place where the DGSS members of our community are recognised and welcomed, everyone is free to be themselves, and where staff and students benefit from the diversity of our community.”

 

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