Home' LOTL : October 2004 Contents After receiving loads of emails from uni students struggling
to feel safe on their campus in the last few months, I'm
realising my brush with education was a mite more ideallic than
most queer students. I had the unbridled joy of studying queer
theory at Macquarie Uni which had just opened its first queer
space. Being able to study in this kind of environment gave me
a better chance at success.
"Queer spaces are important on every campus because
queerphobia exists everywhere," says Annaliese Constable (Media
Officer University of Wollongong Student Representative
Council). "The space is important to combat per vasive
discrimination and provide a safe haven for people to feel
comfortable to discuss sexuality and gender identity. It's
somewhere a woman can hold her female partner's hand and not
feel fetishised or likely to be attacked. Sometimes you just need
time out." But most major Australian universities have taken steps
backwards recently in terms of supplying and maintaining queer
spaces. And none are receiving more nominations for
backwardness than The University of Wollongong, officially
awarded the Most Homophobic University 2004 in a ceremony
organised by its queer students. According to Annaliese the level
of homophobia at this campus is so high that students have even
received death threats. "Homophobic incidents are reported on a
daily basis, ranging from comments to people stalking students.
Our banners have been stolen and our posters ripped up. We see
messages and hear comments like 'DIE FAGS' and 'all gay men
should get AIDS and die'. We are constantly afraid for our safety."
If they exist at all, uni safe spaces are more often than not in
unfavourable locations that allow for attacks on students or their
belongings. Wollongong once again takes the proverbial gong
for incidents in its students space.
"The space is off campus," Annaliese explains. "So it is not
patrolled by security. It floods after light rain and has water
running down the walls behind electrical sockets. There are
signs of forced entry. It requires a code to enter -- this creates
problems with anonymity -- and also if you are running away
from an attacker the door jams and it takes at least ten seconds
to punch in the code.
"The only things provided by the university are a fire
extinguisher and a phone -- added after a lone female student
was imprisoned in the 'safe' space by a man barricading the door
with his bike and threatening to burn her to death because she
was a lesbian."
Annaliese and other members of the Wollongong Queer
Collective staged a protest in response to treatment they'd
received. The protest started with a speak-out, followed by a
student siege in the queer space that lasted several days and
ended in three arrests. "During the siege the university officials
said they would not help us while we held them to ransom, but
they had been holding us to ransom with our safety for years,"
Annaliese says. "The student protest was peaceful. However,
the same can not be said for the police. They rammed with
riot shields until the frame of the door smashed and two
students were crushed against the wall, while I was thrown to
the floor. The windows of the room were visibly shaking from
the force. As I was pushed into the paddy wagon I specifically
requested that the gay and lesbian liaison officer be contacted
immediately and that (arrestee) Daniel Brown not be
separated from Dominka and I. I had safety concerns for
Daniel going to a male prison. A police officer implied his
safety was not guaranteed, which was terrifying. The police
also twisted Dominka's arms and wrists to force her to walk."
The Wollongong Queer Collective is calling for people to
write letters condemning the university for inactions of
negligence and their excessive actions of calling the police.
They are proposing a national day of action on October 13.
"Homophobia is on every campus and in every town. We
need community-wide support to influence Australia in
general that we are serious about our right to safety, in and
out of queer spaces."
HOMOPHOBIA CAN BE FOUGHT WITH
EDUCATION. BUT HOW DO YOU BATTLE
HOMOPHOBIA PRESENT IN THE EDUCATION
SYSTEM ITSELF, ASKS TIFFANY JONES.
Contact Operation Queer Space at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Shop at www.outvideo.com.au
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Call 03 9525 3669
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