Students can experience numerous challenges while at university, but for those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, these can be especially unique. The University of Newcastle aspires to be an inclusive environment – which is why the ALLY Network is such an important support service. If you’re struggling with your sexual orientation or gender identity, this can be your safe space on campus. Navigator spoke with Equity and Diversity Coordinator, Astrid Gearin, on how the ALLY Network can help you.
What is the ALLY Network?
The ALLY Network is a specialised network of UON peers who are trained in discussing and advocating issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community. These Allies can be your fellow students, staff, and even your lecturers. By challenging anti LGBTQIA+ prejudice, stigmas and heteronormative values, the ALLY Network facilitates a more inclusive and welcoming environment at the University.
While Allies are not experts of sexuality and gender identity, they are required to undertake regular professional development so they can hone their knowledge, remain up to date and current on matters that impact LGBTIQA+* community members.
According to Astrid, “The [ALLY] Network’s aim is to create a network of support across the University.” This involves “Challenging themselves and others on issues of sexual prejudice in the workplace, such as homophobia and heterosexism.”
How the ALLY Network helps students
Nobody wants to feel like they’re alone. By contacting an Ally, they provide you with the opportunity to be heard and understood. Everything shared between yourself and an Ally is completely confidential, and they will approach it with an open and respecting attitude. As part of their training, they are able to refer you to other support services both on and off campus, such as but not limited to; ACON (based at Islington) and the UON Queer Collective.
Allies strive to increase the visibility and awareness of LGBTQIA+ related issues, and if needed, will advocate on your behalf.
NUSA’s Queer Convenor, Ollie Cook, has witnessed first-hand how the ALLY Network can benefit students.
“LGBTQIA+ students benefit from the ALLY network because it means that staff on campus are aware of issues that affect queer students specifically and are there as a friendly ear or face when needed. Students benefit from being able to go to staff who are specifically trained to be aware of the problems queer students face and are able to deal with this more,” they said.
A key measure the ALLY Network has helped with was the inaugural raising of the rainbow flag during Pride Week 2017.
“We were able to have quite a number of staff and students at the event to be able to celebrate the pride flag being raised at the University of Newcastle,” Ollie said.
How to contact an Ally
If you’re feeling sceptical, just remember these people are here to help.
“[Allies] understand the level of fear and stigma associated with disclosing sexual orientation or gender identity and therefore act without judgement and respect individuals’ confidentiality at all times.”
ALLIES can be recognised by the rainbow ALLY logo on their lanyard that carries their staff ID card, or by an ALLY certificate/sticker on their office door or by checking the list FIND AN ALLY.
How you can help
If you’re interested in helping your fellow students, why not sign up to be an Ally? By doing so, you’d be playing your part to make a more diverse and enjoyable university experience.
To become an Ally, you must:
- Attend an ALLY training session.
- Be a role model for the University through your behaviour and language.
- Recognise traditional sexuality privileges and be reflective.
- Work within and support existing policies around discrimination and equal opportunity.
- Increase the visibility of the ALLY Network in a proactive manner.
- Allow your name to be included on the ALLYpage as well as being provided to staff and students.
- Be able to be contacted at UON as well as provide support for peers in a ‘safe zone’.
- Understand the various UON support services.
- Be open and respond respectfully to questions from and about LGBTIQA+ students and staff and maintain confidentiality.
- Keep up to date and informed about current LGBTIQA+ related issues, learnings, resources and information.
As Astrid explains, “Building the ALLY Network across UON, helps to raise awareness about matters for LGBTIQA+ Communities and that by challenging homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism makes UON a more inclusive place for all”.
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*The acronym LGBTIQA+ stands for: L – lesbian;G – gay;B – bisexual;T – trans;I – intersex;Q – queer, questioning A – asexual, agender, aromantic; + – other diverse sexual orientations and gender identites.
There are four different issues which are included in LGBTIQA+ spectrum: Sexual attraction; Gender identity; Gender expression; Sex characteristics