Gendering the University through a tapestry of binaries; my journey of safety at the University of Melbourne

Written by Rick Spencer, GSA LGBTIQ Officer

Content warning: references to transphobia and harassment.

Growing up in the western suburbs of Melbourne in the late 1980s, I was drawn to the University of Melbourne campus as my safe space. A place where I could escape from the discrimination I had experienced daily growing up as a feminine young person, assigned male at birth but always identified as female, in the blue collared environment of not-so-sunny Sunshine. The AIDS epidemic was gaining momentum and had only compounded the hatred directed at me by students at my high school, family, neighbours, and strangers alike.

There was no refuge for me in Sunshine, no LGBTIQ+ support services anywhere in the West. I often wondered–especially in my late teens–was I the only transgender female person in the West? I felt alone, depressed, and scared, regularly questioning whether life was worth living.

When I reached my late teens, I was allowed to escape over the other side of the Maribyrnong River to the bright lights of the Melbourne CBD. I would spend most of these visits hanging out at the University of Melbourne, the State Library and at RMIT.

The University of Melbourne was always my favourite destination – it became my safe space. Beautiful buildings, big shady trees, and well-manicured lawns to sit on. Best of all though was the friendly, non-judgmental vibe. Young adults interacting together. All types of people, wearing all types of clothes, sporting the latest 1980s hairstyles and makeup. When I would enter the library, I felt safe and protected.

Best of all, I could sit on the grass and watch the diverse world pass me by. I didn’t have to worry about being a victim of harassment and discrimination, which happened to me regularly in the West. These trips to the University of Melbourne gave me hope for the future and something to live for.

Fast forward to 2021 and I still love the vibe of the University of Melbourne. I have even been lucky enough to study here, something I would never have even dreamed of.

Based on my early experiences I decided to “give back” and this year nominated to become the GSA LGBTIQ Officer. I only started in the role recently and am looking forward to the challenges ahead and the initiatives we are looking at implementing.

I have come into the position at an exciting time. While the challenges of COVID-19 remain, the University continues to look at practical ways to support LGBTIQ+ students and continue its long proud history of promoting an inclusive and safe environment for all. In this office, I will work closely with our LGBTIQA+ student and staff community, Pride Network, and other GSA elected representatives. Together, we will ensure that the University champions its commitment to eradicating any voices that promote the exclusion of minority groups, as sanctioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As an open transgender woman, I will power forward to ensure that my transgender colleagues are protected. I am here to assist and provide support to all LGBTIQ+ students. The best way to contact me is via email