Dear James Cook University,
I have done a lot of things late. I like step back, to think about things, take my time and evaluate. My decision to attend JCU was no different. Neither was my decision to finally be open and honest about my sexuality as I began attending JCU as a mature-aged student. And finally, neither is the choice to pen this open letter, asking you to reconsider your stance against a permanent queer space at JCU.
Coming out was not an easy choice: I tried to camouflage myself for a long time. I didn't want to fight, every day, to be on the same footing as everyone else. But coming out was a great sigh of relief.
Although it had its challenges.
The first obstacle was being disbelieved, like some little (27-year-old) girl who didn't understand things yet. In a lot of ways that's how women are treated - like we can't possibly know our own minds without some outside guidance.
Then after that came The Wall. An invisible one, materialising in the middle of a conversation when people suddenly realise oh, she's gay. Then nothing else I say matters, no other words get through this barrier. At the same time, they try to convince me that The Wall is all in my head.
It's never said in so many words, though. It's said in "oh, are you sure you didn't misinterpret that?", after two men stood close to me, talking about "dikes" in bodies of water, salaciously watching me from the corners of their eyes because they wanted to use the word "dyke" in my presence. It's said in the sudden shift from friendliness to coldness, how the smile quickly drops from the corners of their eyes but not from their lips. It's said in how my school teachers, who somehow knew I was gay before I did, treated me differently than the other students without ever doing anything overtly.
Yet, this underlying current of homophobia has been confirmed to me. The Religious Discrimination Bill that failed to pass the Australian parliament prompted charities, elderly homes, and community services with religious affiliations to write how exclusion of LGBTQIA+ people is the only way to "protect" religious freedoms.
I've served in the Australian army and I have a perfect GPA in my biomedical sciences degree; but that doesn't matter. To them, this one aspect of me, which is beyond my control and causes harm to no one, is the only important thing. They want to exclude me from so much of life, no matter how much I have to offer to society.
It is frustrating and unfair: especially in the absolute glee they take in hurting other people, calling them "snowflakes" while actively trying to degrade their quality of life. I can guarantee they would be "snowflakes" too, were the shoe on the other foot.
I did not ask for this. I did not ask to be born this way. Every day, at least once, I think about how much of me I will need to defend or hide, based on how hostile the space might be. I'm always reminded that there are people out there who hate me, without knowing a single thing about me.
I've only been "out" for three years but I am already exhausted.
This is why we need safe queer spaces. A place where being open and honest does not equate to vulnerability. A place where I am allowed to simply exist.
Let me be clear: a permanent queer space on a JCU campus does not mean a space where straight people and allies are not welcome. A permanent queer space means a place where it is made very clear that anti-lgbtqia+ behaviour is not tolerated. It means if any anti-lgbtqia+ behaviour does occur, no one can say "oh, are you sure you didn't misinterpret that?"
If you've read this far, please know I am grateful for your time. I really do hope this letter paves the way for more open, honest communication between the university and its LGBTQIA+ community.
Your friendly neighbourhood lesbian.