UTS Pride Week — An Open Letter

Amy Duloy, Alex Young — Queer Officers

It has long been established that LGBTQI+ people, particularly transgender and gender diverse people, face higher rates of violence and harassment than cisgender and heterosexual men and women. A new wave of hostility toward LGBTQI+ people has started in the wake of the public controversy around bathroom access in the United States. This will only continue to grow in the months leading up to the postal vote on marriage equality — we are already seeing homophobic and transphobic propaganda being distributed as part of the ‘no’ campaign. The increase in hostility toward queer-identifying people in our culture will inevitably result in an increase in the harassment and discrimination experienced by queer-identifying students and staff at UTS.

There are also ongoing issues in regards to sexual violence that uniquely affect the LGBTQI+ community. This is reflected in the Human Rights Commission Report on Sexual Assault on Campus, which stated that:

“…trans and gender diverse students were […] more likely than women or men to have been sexually assaulted (16.2%) in 2015 and/or 2016.”

And also that:

“…trans and gender diverse students were more likely to have been sexually harassed (72%) and more likely to have been sexually harassed in a university setting (45%) in 2016 than women or men.”

“Excluding incidents which occurred while travelling to or from university, 42% of trans and gender diverse students were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016. “

We note that it is highly problematic to report the sexual assault and harassment of all transgender students separately from the categories of “men” or “women”, as transgender men are men and transgender women are women. Despite the flaws in this data, the evidence is clear: universities are not safe for transgender and gender diverse individuals. In designing new strategies to confront sexual violence at UTS, the disproportionate harassment and assault of LGBTQI+ students must be taken into account.

The UTS Queer Collective has come up with a number of steps the university should take in light of these issues. These should be implemented through ongoing consultation with queer-identifying students and staff, to ensure they properly represent the needs of this community.

All-gender bathrooms are an important resource, because they allow nonbinary and gender diverse individuals to use the facilities they need without contributing to their gender dysphoria. They can also serve as a haven from gender policing and transphobic violence — as gendered spaces can be physically unsafe for transgender, gender diverse, and gender nonconforming people. The Queer Collective, whose role is to advocate for all LGBTQI+ students at UTS, insist that at least one bathroom in every building on campus be re-labelled an “all-gender” facility. Simply stating that students in need of a non-gendered bathroom should use the wheelchair accessible stalls is not enough. We insist this change be made as soon as possible, at least by the end of the first session of 2018. We do not recommend that all bathrooms be re-labelled “all-gender”, as this would be problematic for women (including trans women), as the HRC report states that the majority of sexual violence on campus is perpetrated by men against women.

The access to sanitary bins is important to note when implementing a bathroom policy such as this. Women-identifying students are not the only ones who need these resources. Transgender men, for example, run the risk of exposing themselves to danger if they attempt to use a female bathroom in order to access sanitary bins. It has been brought to our attention that Building 10 already has sanitary bins in every bathroom. We can therefore assume that it is achievable across the entire campus, and request for action to be taken as soon as possible.

As Building 2 is still under construction, the inclusion of non-gendered bathrooms should be easier. Students of the the UTS Queer Collective have high hopes for the future of our institution. Building 2 — a hallmark of UTS’ innovation and a symbol of its future — should set an example of inclusivity. For all new buildings that are designed for the UTS campus we recommend that an all-gender bathroom be included on every floor.

All-gender bathrooms are a step in the right direction, but they are not enough. The UTS Queer Collective also calls for increased efforts by the university to prevent discrimination and violence against LGBTQI+ students. A component of basic training regarding LGBTQI+ identities must be added to the mandatory consent module that is being designed for UTS students. This is necessary in order to demystify LGBTQI+ people and foster acceptance. It is also important to recognise that transphobic and homophobic violence often takes the form of sexual assault, particularly in gendered spaces like male/female bathrooms. There are situations where a perpetrator may not realise that their behaviour to towards a gender diverse individual is a form of sexual harassment or assault. For example: asking invasive questions about the victim’s genitals. More serious examples include attempts to remove the clothing of the victim to confirm their assigned sex. This basic training concept must be taken into account in the design of any mandatory consent modules. It must also be considered in reporting criteria and in the updated definitions of sexual violence that will be available on the UTS website.

We would like to commend the university for providing counsellors that are experienced with LGBTQI+ issues. We would like to emphasise the importance of autonomous queer spaces to the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQI+ students. On Level 3 of Building 1, there is a small common room open only to queer-identifying people. Here, students can find refuge from the alienating treatment they often face elsewhere, which is hugely beneficial for mental health. Students can also use the space to access resources like counselling and emergency housing. One of the reasons LGBTQI+ students may be unlikely to report violence and harassment — including sexual violence and harassment — is that they do not trust they will be listened to or helped because of their identity. Autonomous spaces provide a place where victims can speak about their experiences with peers who understand how these issues, like sexual assault, uniquely affect LGBTQI+ people. We insist the university takes steps to ensure the continuation of resources like the queer space. We also recommend that those resources be expanded where possible — as we have been dealing with overloads in capacity.

Finally, in light of the renewed wave of hostility described in this letter, UTS must take steps to openly show its support for LGBTQI+ people. This could include an awareness campaign around queer identities and experiences (posters, online content, etc.), as well as publically expressing support for marriage equality and encouraging students and staff to vote “yes” in the postal vote.

To summarize, the Queer Collective’s recommendations are:

  1. Re-label one bathroom in every UTS building an “all-gender” facility.
  2. Include one “all-gender” bathroom on every floor in all new buildings designed for the UTS campus.
  3. Provide sanitary bins in all bathrooms on campus.
  4. Acknowledge disproportionate rates of sexual violence experienced by LGBTQI+ students when designing strategies for the university.
  5. Provide training for students regarding LGBTQI+ identities in mandatory consent modules, including information on the types of sexual violence that are experienced by this community in particular.
  6. Update and expand current definitions of sexual violence to bring light to the instances experienced by LGBTQI+ people that are often overlooked.
  7. Protect queer-autonomous spaces and expand them where possible.
  8. Take steps to publically support the LGBTQI+ community — through awareness of these identities, and promotion of the “yes” campaign in the marriage equality debate.

In this time of increased hostility, we urge all cisgender and heterosexual students and staff at UTS to examine their internal biases and to be aware of how their words and actions affect others. This is a time where we must all come together in support and solidarity. We expect that collaboration between the university and students will foster an environment that is safe for the LGBTQI+ community at UTS. We hope that the goals outlined in this letter are shared by the university and that work can begin as soon as possible.

UTS Queer Collective