Statistics don’t paint a pretty picture for the LGBTQI community in Australia. Three-quarters report experiencing some form of discrimination while 61 percent report instances of verbal abuse, according to a report by the National LGBTI Health Alliance. Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals are also three times more likely to have depression than the general population.
It’s within this national context that Brisbane-based group Rainbow Hub, which supports and empowers International LGBTQI students, exists.
Its mission to “raise awareness, promote and facilitate a supportive environment for international LGBTQI young people in the wider Brisbane community” is both laudable and vital, given the fact that 80 percent of homophobic bullying is happening in schools, more than one in three LGBTI people feel the need to hide their sexuality at certain events and two in ten experience physical homophobic abuse.
“The Rainbow Hub wants international queer students to celebrate their identity and diversity in this safe space where there is no discrimination or judgment, a place where you can feel happy to be yourself and communicate with like-minded people,” its website reads.
Twice a month, LGBTQI students and allies meet on Tuesday afternoons in a comfortable and safe setting at Rainbow Hub. Discussions, workshops, and activities are also organised. Its most recent events include Hallowqueer (to celebrate Halloween), International Coming Out Day on October 10 and Pride Fair Day (Brisbane’s biggest LGBTI+ event of the year).
Will from Brazil studying in Brisbane said: “Moving and studying abroad, you never know how people will react to your particular sexual orientation or gender identity, and that’s why a group like Rainbow Hub is so important. It puts to rest our concerns and gifts us with the opportunity of meeting like-minded souls, making friends and turning this daunting experience into something lighter and more enjoyable.”
Australia enrolled a record 624,000 international students in 2017, according to the ICEF Monitor, comprising over 200 nationalities, though more than half derived from five sending markets: China, India, Nepal, Malaysia and Brazil.
LGBTQI students are estimated to make up 10 percent of the of the total cohort of students studying in Australia each year.
A significant minority, this is yet another reason for Australian educators should ensure a welcoming and inclusive environment for this group of inbound students. Suggestions on how to do so range from the most obvious such as displaying a rainbow flag to zero tolerance for homophobic and heterosexist comments in class.
Nina from Brazil said: “I think that when we move to a different country we are not sure how the LGBTQI+ life is. We are not sure how to behave, if it is socially acceptable. So I think that if the schools had a little flag, or messages on the board, something just to show that the queer community is safe in the environment. That [it’s] ok to say they are gay.”