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Navigating school, uni and life through an LGBTQIA+ lens

“University is an extremely big contrast to school. I think you’re encouraged to conform or be part of the norm, to follow a certain narrative, whereas when you switch to uni you’re encouraged to be an individual and people pride difference.”

This statement could have been made by anyone who has made the 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 in championing the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. During his first year as a student at the University of Melbourne, he wrote his first article for SBS and has since developed quite the portfolio, contributing to publications including The Guardian, Fairfax, Crikey, Junkee and The Huffington Post. Throw in his work for Out, Thought Catalogue, Acclaim, Archer, Spectrum and Quarterley Essay, and it becomes clear few are as qualified to discuss this topic as eloquently as Louis.

As is the case for many young people who come out, Louis found a distinct difference between his high school and university experiences.

“When I came out, it didn’t have anything to with timing but in hindsight I’m really happy it played out the way it did. I had a gap year between Year 12 and uni and it was really refreshing to start fresh and be quite open and unapologetic about who I was. It was great, it definitely felt like a new lease on life, like going through adolescence again, going through different experiences and interactions. How people were exploring and growing up in school, that’s how I felt going through university.”

“I was in a lot of cultural and gender studies classes so automatically I was surrounded by a lot of diverse people on the sexuality spectrum. It kind of made me realise that at school I was in an absolute bubble but outside of that there was such different personalities. Throughout uni it was a big group of people I hung out with, but everyone was so unique, more representative of life.”

Still, it wasn’t all rosy. Louis recalls trying to locate the queer space room at the University of Melbourne with a friend during his first year, and battling.

“We found it really hard to find. I think it’s changed now but I remember it being on the fourth floor of a random building in the corner and I didn’t know how accessible it would be, and I remember thinking it was maybe a bit disappointing because it wasn’t that visible. I think it’s changed now but I remember thinking that it was a shame that it wasn’t more visible in everyday campus life.”

Things have certainly changed. Melbourne University boasts queer support services that rival any institution in the country, gay marriage has been legalised in Australia and through the power of advocacy and social media, the rights of the LGBTQIA+ have been firmly pushed in front of the public conscience. There is a way to go yet, undoubtedly, but things are heading in a better direction.

“I’ve always thought that to change attitudes and mindsets you need to be visible and it is all about representation and starting a conversation. Within the last year, with the plebiscite and same sex marriage, there is an increase in visibility. I’ve always said people fear what they don’t understand or what they haven’t been exposed to, and with this increase in representation and visibility, mindsets are changing and it’s been a huge step forward in the last year.”