“University isan extremely big contrast to school. I think you’re encouraged to conform or bepart of the norm, to follow a certain narrative, whereas when you switch to uniyou’re encouraged to be an individual and people pride difference.”
This statement could have been made by anyone who has madethe transition from high school to the Australian university system. However,it was made by LGBTQIA+ advocate Louis Hanson.
Louis is a freelance writer and well-practiced inchampioning the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. During his first year as astudent at the University of Melbourne, he wrote his first article for SBS andhas since developed quite the portfolio, contributing to publications includingThe Guardian, Fairfax, Crikey, Junkee and The Huffington Post. Throw in hiswork for Out, Thought Catalogue, Acclaim, Archer, Spectrum and QuarterleyEssay, and it becomes clear few are as qualified to discuss this topic as eloquentlyas Louis.
As is the case for many young people who come out, Louisfound a distinct difference between his high school and university experiences.
“When I came out, it didn’t have anything to with timing butin hindsight I’m really happy it played out the way it did. I had a gap yearbetween Year 12 and uni and it was really refreshing to start fresh and be quiteopen and unapologetic about who I was. It was great, it definitely felt like anew lease on life, like going through adolescence again, going throughdifferent experiences and interactions. How people were exploring and growingup in school, that’s how I felt going through university.”
“I was in a lot of cultural and gender studies classes soautomatically I was surrounded by a lot of diverse people on the sexualityspectrum. It kind of made me realise that at school I was in an absolute bubblebut outside of that there was such different personalities. Throughout uni itwas a big group of people I hung out with, but everyone was so unique, more representativeof life.”
Still, it wasn’t all rosy. Louis recalls trying to locatethe queer space room at the University of Melbourne with a friend during hisfirst year, and battling.
“We found it really hard to find. I think it’s changed now butI remember it being on the fourth floor of a random building in the corner andI didn’t know how accessible it would be, and I remember thinking it was maybea bit disappointing because it wasn’t that visible. I think it’s changed nowbut I remember thinking that it was a shame that it wasn’t more visible ineveryday campus life.”
Things have certainly changed. Melbourne University boastsqueer support services that rival any institution in the country, gay marriagehas been legalised in Australia and through the power of advocacy and socialmedia, the rights of the LGBTQIA+ have been firmly pushed in front of thepublic conscience. There is a way to go yet, undoubtedly, but things are headingin a better direction.
“I’ve always thought that to change attitudes and mindsetsyou need to be visible and it is all about representation and starting aconversation. Within the last year, with the plebiscite and same sex marriage,there is an increase in visibility. I’ve always said people fear what theydon’t understand or what they haven’t been exposed to, and with this increasein representation and visibility, mindsets are changing and it’s been a hugestep forward in the last year.”