Visibility, identity and finding your tribe can be a daunting task for any student, particularly first year students. However, for a lot of queer students, and those within the LGBTQIA community, this task can often seem particularly overwhelming. Who do you turn to? How do you navigate and find your particular path? And how do you seek out and find a support system that is right for you? No matter where you fit on the spectrum of life, love and all things in general, it’s important to never underestimate the significance of a strong support network to help share the load just that little bit. Thankfully UON has its own Queer Collective, tailored specifically for LGBTQIA students of UON and their allies as well, to help you navigate your path to success. Recently, we sat down with former Queer convener Hayden, to answer some of our (and your) burning questions.
Tell me about your role as the UON Queer convenor
My role was to essentially facilitate the collective, to convene meetings and to provide any support if need be. If people were to come with any grievances or seek any support, it was my role to know what sort of support services are out there. My role as well, was to ensure that the perspective and the voice of queer students are being prioritised through the student union and on the student union council.
What do you think is the importance of the Collective as a whole especially for UON?
I think it’s very important. It’s important within the student union here on campus, as I said, prioritising LGBTQIA voices. Members of our community face large amounts of discrimination and coming from lots and lots of different backgrounds these can be faced differently. This year our Collective has faced a little bit of a re-structure in that we now also have a transgender officer, and a (queer) women’s officer, and we ensure that those voices are being heard. Here on campus it’s important that we are showing both to the students here and to the University itself, that we exist and we’re here. We want to make sure our voices are heard and that our rights are both listened to and respected, and that we feel included within a campus situation.
Having a support network is absolutely so important!
That’s absolutely where we come in. If there’s something that a student needs, that we can’t offer, it’s about knowing where the best place is for them to get the support they need. Both on and off campus.
For a lot of queer people I think there can be this overarching misconception that you don’t need a support network. Can you reiterate why being surrounded by one is so important?
Well in terms of on campus here, and our role as the Collective being involved in the union, knowing that we have people from vastly different backgrounds with hugely different experiences, it’s about putting those aside and identifying that we do have similarities, and we are largely discriminated against based on our sexuality or gender identity. It’s about coming together and ensuring that we are all speaking and talking with one other and ensuring that we as a collective can stand up and say, ‘Hey this needs to change’. The more voices we have, and the more support we can give, the better support we can offer. There are simple things like learning how to submit a university assignment, from someone who has experienced similar things to you, I think that prepares you for whatever challenges you may face here at university.
Like you said, a lot of students are coming to university at a lot of different stages in their lives, this is particularly relevant to those who identify within the queer community, especially in regard to coming out. Sometimes it’s good and also very important to know that you’re not the only one, despite what you may think. I don’t think you can ever underestimate the importance of not only representation but visibility as well, what do those terms mean to you?
Oh well that’s a good question! I guess I’ll start with visibility… Just making sure that the wider community is aware that we are here. Having things like Pride Month here on campus or Pride Week – coming up later this year – having these things present not only shows to people within our own community that we’re here and we’re great etc. but ensuring that we’re visible enough for people who may be struggling or are looking for a place to go on campus.
Can you tell me a little more about emphasising the importance of self-care – something that can often be pushed to the wayside.
Our community has some of the highest levels of health issues, I think having a group on campus that you can come and talk to, I really think talking can help that. We have ACON (Aids Council of NSW) come in once a week who can provide further support services if need be and we have further counselling services available here on campus. Often people in our community don’t want to talk to counsellors that they don’t know, and it’s about having other members in the queer community that you can talk to about whatever, I think can be helpful.
Finally, what do you think the number one role of an ally is, in regard to supporting the queer community?
Being able to listen, especially without judgement, to someone who’s come to you and is speaking to you about that. Ensuring that you aren’t placing judgment that may be from a heterosexual prospective or even a cisgender perspective, because your views might not be the same. The short answer would be listening to the community and listening, whilst also validating.
Image: Peter Hershey