Swinburne University reaffirms LGBTI commitment in wake of gay slur controversy
Swinburne University has moved to reassure its staff and students that it’s a safe and welcoming place for LGBTI people in the wake of anti-gay slurs made by one its club's officials.
Swinburne Vice-President, International and Future Students, Jeffrey Smart, who is openly-gay, has sent an email to staff and students, reflecting on the university's strong commitment to diversity and support of LGBTI people.
The email was sent in response to homophobic comments on Facebook by Swinburne University Liberal Club vice-president Tim Dark, who has since resigned from his post.
“As a gay man I am privileged to belong to the Swinburne University community,” Smart writes in the email.
Above: Swinburne University Vice-President, International and Future Students, Jeffrey Smart
“LGBTI – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex – people are members of the Swinburne community at all levels, from the executive, the academic and professional staff, to the student body and our extensive alumni network.
“I know from personal experience that Swinburne has a deep and abiding commitment to working with the LGBTI population to ensure that we are supporting our people and saying no, emphatically no, to the prejudice, hate, discrimination and abuse of queer people that belongs to another century.”
Smart acknowledged that there have been recent instances in the university of language being used “that degrades, intimidates and insults LGBTI people”.
“When we at Swinburne witness intolerant and divisive behaviour, how should we respond? How should we as a university community celebrate our diversity and our progress on LGBTI issues, whilst naming and rejecting insults, abuse, derogatory comments and hate speech?
“We can do it in several ways. We can be clear about our values of tolerance and inclusion. We can clearly state our commitment to the LGBTI community. We can help staff and students understand the world of LGBTI people and provide the tools that make it easy and OK to have explicit conversations about homosexuality, bisexuality, and trans/intersex issues. We can state what is not OK, the behaviour which we will not tolerate. And we can make sure that our commitment to Swinburne’s queer community is visible around campus and in our policies, strategies, plans, and work/study places.”
Smart said that while many staff and students were out and proud, many others are still coming to terms with their own identities. It’s an experience Smart knows too well.
“When I was a student at university - decades ago, sadly - we didn’t have social media, but we did have homophobia. A college magazine carried a short, nasty comment about my assumed homosexuality, at a time where I was coming to terms with who I was. The impact on me was significant compounding the sort of fear, anxiety and self-loathing that every young queer person has when they are abused because of who they are.
“I can look back at that experience now, comfortable in my skin. But it was devastating at the time. And this is the impact that intolerant hate speech has, right now, on our queer community.
Smart highlighted the queer-friendly leadership of Swinburne Student Union and Swinburne Student Amenities Association, “who are committed to supporting LGBTI students and making sure that our university is a leader in the queer community”, and said the university was in the process of developing an ALLY Network, comprising staff and students committed to creating an inclusive culture.
“I know the vast majority of you are incredibly supportive of the LGBTI community: in the end it’s that knowledge that strengthens and sustains us and makes Swinburne a truly amazing university,” Smart said.
Read the full statement by Jeffrey Smart here