RMIT has gone rainbow for International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), hosting a broad-ranging panel discussion and other events.
May 17 marks IDAHOBIT around the world and is a day to stand against the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) family, friends and colleagues.
The 2018 global theme is alliances for solidarity and recognises the importance of working together to achieve LGBTIQ rights.
Schools, universities and workplaces across Australia and globally marked the day with rainbow events.
RMIT hosted a panel discussion What Now for the LGBTIQA+ Community Post-Marriage Equality? as well as rainbow ribbon making workshops and an RMIT Ally network party.
Pro Vice-Chancellor Science, Engineering and Health and Vice-President and Executive Champion for Diverse Genders, Sexes and Sexualities (DGSS) Professor Peter Coloe introduced the panel with RMIT Connect Director Dene Cicci chairing.
Senior Chaplain Alae Taule’alo, Senior Coordinator Safer Community Programs Thea Lamaro, PhD Student and Sessional lecturer School of Engineering Mohammad Taha and Lecturer, School of Media and Communication Dr Patrick Kelly shared their personal experiences and the impact of the marriage equality vote on them as part of the panel.
Professor Coloe said IDAHOBIT was a unique opportunity for the whole world to come together to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness.
“We are passionate about making RMIT an inclusive, supportive and safe environment for every single staff member and student, and we actively integrate diversity and inclusion considerations into our strategic and operational planning,’’ he said.
“Besides promoting inclusiveness, we want to call out the issues and barriers for our students and staff who are LGBTQI.’’
Coloe said his take away from the panel was that everyone has a role to play advocating for change within RMIT.
“It’s not a discussion about the five people on the panel but a discussion across the wider university,’’ he said.
“I was reflecting that this probably wouldn’t have happened five years ago to get all these people here having this debate.’’
Australia’s support network for LGBTIQ youth, the Minus18 Foundation, champions IDAHOBIT activities locally.
About 75 per cent of LGBTI young people in Australia experience some form of discrimination and have higher rates of depression, according to Minus18.
A resounding 61.6 per cent of Australians said ‘yes’ to same-sex marriage in the 2017 postal survey. While same-sex marriage became legal on January 9, 2018, Alae Taule’alo wanted to get married on his own terms and not the Federal Government’s.
Taule’alo and his partner of seven years married in Europe in October 2017.
“We’d originally planned to marry in Sweden. What was really interesting for me was that we could get married in this Viking church but it was actually the state that was the problem,’’ he said.
“I basically just Googled, `What’s the easiest place in Europe to get married?’ so we basically got married in the Vegas of Europe, Gibraltar.’’
While Taule’alo believes the vote had “kind of taken the wind out of the sails of this conservative, potent majority’, he thought the full ramifications were yet to be seen.
“I think the social, cultural changes will happen much more slowly,“ he said.
Mohammad Taha touched on the postal survey as an important step in the right direction, highlighting education as a key factor moving forward.
“This idea that we have to all be the same isn’t sensible” they said.
“We need to engage in education, if we don’t change people’s minds their behaviours won’t ever change.”
RMIT’s DGSS Action Plan details the specific steps RMIT is taking to improve inclusion. A Working Party with broad representation across the university supports the plan’s implementation.
Other initiatives to support inclusion include guides for inclusive language and gender transition, partnering with LGBTI organisations, supporting days and events of significance including Wear it Purple and Midsumma, establishing Queer Lounges within the Student Union facilities and 50 gender neutral toilets.
RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President Martin Bean CBE publicly supported marriage equality on behalf of RMIT in August 2017 ahead of the Australian marriage law postal survey opening.
RMIT initiatives around inclusion have been recognised with Bronze Employer status in the 2017 Australian Workplace Equality Index.
Story: Amelia Harris and Maddy Pattison