The Australian National University’s (ANU) sexuality department not only provides an invaluable support service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer students on campus (LGBTIQ), it is also unashamedly political.
For example, it has thrown its weight behind the campaign for equal marriage rights.
So perhaps it is not surprising that the department has been challenged by homophobia on campus.
In May during Pride Week, 500 posters were ripped down.
Posters were again ripped down in the lead-up to the November 6 equal marriage rally. When activists put different political posters next to each other, only the LGBTIQ posters were ripped down.
One poster was torn up and scattered outside the queer space. This was particularly threatening — the location of the queer space is only supposed to be known by the queer students who use it.
Students were galvanised by the homophobic vandalism. Ironically, it also led to more media publicity for the rally than the Equal Love Canberra organising group has had in years, with activists interviewed by ABC radio and the Canberra Times.
The students also staged a stakeout to defend the posters, dressing up in camouflage and watching over them until 4am. They re-decorated the poster bollards on campus, painting bright rainbow queer decorations all over them.
Before the media coverage, ANU management and security made very little effort to address the issue, even though they had known about the vandalism since May.
Deputy sexuality officer Emma Eriksen told Green Left Weekly: “It wasn’t until it appeared in the Canberra Times that we really got a response … I ended up meeting with the deputy vice chancellor. They were helpful. I’d hate for it to be the fact that they were helpful only because it got in the media and it got them some bad press, but they actually are being really helpful now.”
The response of the student association was disappointing. President Tully Fletcher wrote to the Canberra Times requesting that the article be retracted. He said ANU was a safe space for queer students. Fletcher is not LGBTIQ himself, and queer students asked why he felt he had the authority to undermine their own claims about safety on campus.
When the queer movement comes close to a victory, anti-queer forces tend to get more organised. In Spain, just before legislation for equal marriage rights was passed, 20 Catholic bishops led a rally of 200,000 people to oppose it.
Something similar happened in Tasmania before the decriminalisation of sodomy. Homophobes staged large demonstrations and even went so far as to form their own grassroots activist groups (“Concerned Residents Against Moral Pollution”).
As the equal marriage campaign comes closer to winning the demand for marriage rights, these kinds of attacks may become more common.
The reason people feel the need to tear down our posters is precisely because we are so strong. We have majority opinion, and the tide of history, on our side.
In Spain, the queer movement was not intimidated. It took on the Catholic Church and right-wing political parties, and it won. We will win too in Australia, if we stay strong and follow the example of the ANU sexuality department.
If you see posters being ripped down, report it to ANU security on (02) 6125 2249. Eriksen aims to poster the campus over the summer for a queer book club. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to help.