UniSA has just launched its Ally Network, a step towards creating a culture that supports sexual and gender diversity within the university. (Image Source: UniSA)
By Meika Bottrill | @meikabottrill
On May 19 2020, the University of South Australia announced that they have developed a program to support sexual and gender diversity within the university.
The Ally Network encourages staff and students to join in order to become a visible presence in support of the queer community.
This program was developed with support and guidance from the UniSA Rainbow Club and the University of South Australia Student Association (USASA).
UniSA Pride Club was established in 2010 as a safe place for queer students to get together. However, as students who graduated left the club there was no complete handover leaving the univeristy without a club for queer students. So, in 2015 the Rainbow Club was formed and has since worked hard to improve queer student services and events on the campus.
“It’s [the Ally Network] been one [of] our club’s major goals since we started in 2015, and we’re stoked that we made it happen,” Rainbow Club posted on Facebook.
“This represents a significant step towards creating a culture that respects and celebrates sexual and gender diversity.
“We want to create a university community where all students, staff and visitors feel safe, supported and empowered to be who they are.”
Natrydd Sigurthur is the president of UniSA’s Rainbow Club and describes the ally network as a place for students and staff to support the queer community through awareness training to ensure that they are providing a safe and supportive culture.
“I’ve always been proud to be a UniSA student, and seen so much potential for the University to improve – particularly when it comes to student culture,” they said.
“I looked at what other universities were doing and most had Ally Networks, including Adelaide and Flinders, so I was determined to see UniSA step up and have our own.”
Natrydd believes that this network will help combat discrimination on the basis of sex, sexuality and gender identity that is still occurring today.
“[Discrimination] can range from a small comment on someone’s appearance to overt hate speech and violence,” they said.
“This feels incredibly alienating for people who receive it, and can mean that they have an awful experience at university.
“Feeling like you don’t have someone to turn to is very lonely and can lead to worsened mental health and poor study outcomes, which is why it’s vital that support does come in.”
Since the initial launch of the Ally Network on May 17 (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia), several hundred people showed interest in becoming an ally, demonstrating that there is a passion for supporting the queer community within the university.
UniSA describes an ally as someone who can provide a culturally safe contact point, who is willing to listen without assumption, to model inclusive language and behaviours while encouraging others to do the same and who is committed to expanding their own understanding and education surrounding sexual and gender diversity.
An ally may or may not identify as sexually or gender diverse, but they are committed to celebrating diversity and creating a culture of respect, safety and inclusion.
Jack Antonoff, a contributor of the HuffPost, explains that allies of the queer community are integral in promoting the idea that inequality is a human rights issue, not just a “gay issue”.
“The non-LGBTQ community has a distinct power—whether or not they want it—to stand up on behalf of our oppressed fellow human beings, and it seems that the straight community has, to date, failed our LGBTQ citizens by not fully exercising that power,” he said.
“To support quietly from the sidelines while those oppressed stand on the battlefield is to ensure that change will come at a glacial pace.”
Noah Beckmann is the president of USASA and is completing his Bachelor of Aviation (Pilot) and Graduate Diploma of Aviation at UniSA.
He believes these networks are important as they normalise and empower students of diverse genders, sexes and sexualities, and provide them with support in the university community.
“The UniSA Ally Network is a voluntary network of staff and students who are a visible presence in support of our diverse community,” he said.
“It provides support and awareness for students who are of diverse gender, sex, or sexuality.”
Mr Beckmann believes that an ally is a broad term and the definition can often change from person to person.
“In my view, an ally is just a friend, a supporter, someone who can listen and work with others to create a more supportive and inclusive community,” he said.
To register to become a part of the Ally Network head to the UniSA website here.