UQ Allies with the 2010 Diversity@Work award, from left, Beverley Podhajsky (Student Centre), Michael McNally (NTEU UQ Branch) and Marnie King (The Equity Office).
UQ Allies with the 2010 Diversity@Work award, from left, Beverley Podhajsky (Student Centre), Michael McNally (NTEU UQ Branch) and Marnie King (The Equity Office).
2 November 2010

The University of Queensland (UQ) has received a national award for a program that fosters an environment where people of all sexualities and gender identities can safely study and work free of harassment or discrimination.

UQ won the Employment and Inclusion of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Intersex award at the recent 2010 Diversity@Work Awards.

The award was in recognition of the UQ Ally Program, which was a joint initiative of UQ and the UQ Union to recruit and train staff to join a visible network of people who are allies of students and staff identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBT/I).

UQ Allies provide a ‘safe zone’ and confidential environment for LGBT/I staff and students and can provide information about accessing community resources.

Director of the UQ Equity Office, Dr Ann Stewart, said that since its inception in 2004, the UQ Ally Program has trained over 200 allies.

“We currently have 173 registered UQ Allies across UQ campuses and they include heads of schools, senior executive staff and academic and professional staff at every level, which makes a significant contribution to promoting an inclusive culture at UQ,” Dr Stewart said.

“Staff have recognised the need to visibly demonstrate The University‘s commitment to making UQ a safe and enjoyable place for everyone by becoming a UQ Ally and taking up the task of challenging ignorance, suspicion and homophobia on campus."

Dr Stewart says there is still a great deal of ignorance in the wider community about the issues that LGBT/I people face.

“Some people assume there are no problems because being ‘gay’ is sometimes portrayed as ‘cool’,” Dr Stewart said.

“However, data tells us that LGBT/I people are almost inevitably going to experience discrimination and/or harassment during their studies and work. Youth suicide among young gay people is also a significant issue, as is homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse.”

Dr Stewart said UQ Allies had been told by students about being forced to leave home because of their sexuality and experiencing homophobic remarks and behaviour on campus from other students and from staff. She said some international students were worried about their sexuality being revealed and reported back to their home country.

“We want all our students at UQ to be accepted for who they are, to feel free to be themselves and to be able to apply themselves to their studies and enjoy on-campus life without fear. We also want all our staff to know that they will not be denied a promotion, or excluded from participating in the full life of The University simply because of their sexuality or gender identity,” Dr Stewart said.

Executive Officer for the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Shaughn Forbes, was one of the first registered UQ Allies and says she has seen first-hand how the program helps educate and build tolerance within the UQ community.

“The introduction of the Ally Program at UQ allowed staff members who, for a number of years, had felt reticent about revealing to their colleagues that they had same sex partners,” Ms Forbes said.

“It allowed them the same rights and freedoms afforded other employees to discuss their plans and activities for the weekend and for the future.

“We had a staff member join our unit who had never shared their personal life with their colleagues before. It was the visible welcome and acceptance that the UQ Ally badge provided that made them feel comfortable about sharing their personal life with colleagues for the first time in 11 years.

“The Ally Program at UQ is not just a one-off training session, it continues to give all participants the opportunity to attend regular sessions to reaffirm their commitment to equality for all regardless of their sexual orientation.”

For more information about the UQ Ally Program see the webpage http://uq.edu.au/equity/uq-allies

Media: Kathy Grube, UQ Communications (07 3346 0561, k.grube@uq.edu.au)