Making Universities a Safe Space for LGBTIQs
Academic communities in South East Asia have made remarkable progress in terms of LGBTIQ-friendly discourse in recent years, but most have been contained within the younger student bodies and their support groups. Despite efforts of advocacy groups to increase awareness amongst mainstream communities and institutions, the level of support from these sectors remain lukewarm at best.
Just this January, the Indonesian Minister of Higher Education Muhammad Nasir have publicly commented on LGBTIQ communities in universities, saying that because of “standards of values and morals to uphold”, such groups should not be allowed to exist in the academic setting.
Especially dangerous, according to Minister Nasir, are LGBTIQs that study in the scientific field and are holding discussion groups that raise awareness.
The minister’s statements, along with similar sentiments from several government officials, have led concerned activists in Indonesia and abroad to appeal for a better, safer, and more accepting environment for all LGBTIQ students in the South East Asian region.
Creating a “safe space” for LGBTIQs in universities does not just equate to tolerance, or merely allowing LGBTIQ students to pursue their studies and graduate. The goal of a “safe space” is for LGBTIQ students to be able to have the same rights as their straight, cisgender counterparts. LGBTIQ students should not have to fear speaking their mind regarding relevant issues, or even just expressing their gender/sexuality in campus grounds.
With the academe supposedly being a place for an equal expression of ideas from different backgrounds and contexts, it’s harrowing to know that this freedom can be impeded by extremist beliefs from authorized bodies and the government. This doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all of LGBTIQ communities in the university, however, because we can fight back and assert our existence.
This should not be a battle that we have to face alone. The University, as an institution upholding the freedom of education and exchange of ideas, should also advocate for a community that recognizes the equal right to existence, education, and expression of LGBTIQs in the academe. This is not something that can be achieved overnight, but universities can take a step in the right direction by planting the seeds of educated change in their student bodies.
Here are 5 ways a university institution can help create an LGBTIQ “Safe Space”:
- Include courses that help students understand the nuances of gender and sexual orientation in the curriculum, and perhaps make these courses a prerequisite for students of all majors.
- Post and distribute awareness-raising material around campus. These can include pamphlets, posters, and other media that help students develop an accepting and understanding perspective toward LGBTIQ groups, as well as devoting an entire section of the campus library to queer literature and studies.
- Revise dress code and/or uniform code to allow transgender students to express their gender identity. This include length of hair, as well as wearing make-up and gender-expressive clothing or uniforms to campus without fear of student or administrative backlash.
- Provide sanctions for discriminatory behavior against LGBTIQ students and teachers, such as verbal bullying, physical violence, refusal to hire in full-time and part-time university positions, and outright exclusion of queer persons in school organizations.
- Elect LGBTIQ students and academics into leadership positions in order for their issues, concerns, and narratives to be fully visibilized to the student and administrative community.
LGBTIQ students have long been fighting to have the same rights as their cisgender, heterosexual peers. Despite the community’s efforts, a truly accepting academic institution would not be found if the administrative body refuses to lend a helping hand.
This is an advocacy that requires the full commitment of an educated, highly-aware community of academics, united toward a common goal—that is the full, systematic equality of all genders, sexes, and sexual orientations to a proper education and expression of ideas, identities, and beliefs.
Jaja Lavares is an intersectional feminist advocating for LGBTIQ rights and safety from Quezon City, Philippines. She took up Development and Gender Studies at Miriam College, and now works for the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus Secretariat. She uses literature and visual art to express her activism in hopes that she may one day influence the global mainstream.