Over 80 faculty members from RMIT as well as members of Western Sydney University’s SRC have spoken out in support of LGBT rights after academics from both unis appeared on the lineup for a forum on gay conversion therapy.
Dr Caroline Norma from RMIT and Professor John Whitehall from WSU were previously listed as speakers at an upcoming forum set to “explore the major concerns around the proposed ban” on gay conversion therapy in Victoria.
The Australian Christian Lobby, which is organising the forum, has since removed the lineup from its website and issued a clarification.
“This event has nothing to do with advocating for ‘conversion therapy’,” it said.
“Professionals and academics from across Australia will raise their concerns about unintended consequences. They do not and will not be advocating for ‘conversion therapy’.”
After the RMIT Student Union’s Queer Department issued a statement condemning Norma’s participation in the forum, over 80 academics from the uni signed an open letter in support of LGBT rights and inclusion.
“Last week, RMIT University celebrated Pride Week recognising the valuable contributions of our LGBTIQ staff and students and to assert our collective commitment to inclusion and belonging at RMIT,” the letter, released on May 20, read.
“Yet, we are deeply concerned that there remain some within Australian society more broadly who would deny the equal rights and inclusion of our LGBTIQ staff and students, and who affiliate themselves with discriminatory practices that are inconsistent with the full recognition, equal participation and self-determination of LGBTIQ people.
“In particular, we reject discriminatory and harmful practices directed at changing a person’s gender identity or sexuality. Such ‘reparative’ or gay ‘conversion therapy’ refers to a range of practices that falsely claim to change a person’s gender identity or expression or sexual identity.”
Over 50 RMIT academics have submitted an open letter in support of LGBTIQ rights and inclusion – and rejecting the harmful practice of conversion therapy. Universities should be safe and inclusive places for all #AcademicsForEquality pic.twitter.com/Gj1sBSOnhe— Assoc/Prof Anastasia Powell (@Dr_AnastasiaP) May 20, 2020
Since publishing the open letter, its organisers have opened it up to academics from around the country to add their names in solidarity.
Meanwhile at WSU, the SRC’s General Secretary-elect along with other students and four collectives signed their own letter, speaking out against Whitehall’s participation in the panel.
“This week Western Sydney University students became aware that Professor John Whitehall, an academic at Western Sydney University, is set to speak on an Australian Christian Lobby panel regarding conversion therapy in June,” they said in the statement.
“We condemn his ostensibly pro-conversion therapy views and his inclusion on this panel. We are very disappointed in this decision to participate.
“We also wonder how Professor Whitehall’s inclusion on this panel sits with Western Sydney University’s 2017-2020 Sexuality and Gender Diversity Strategy.”
WSU did not respond to requests for comment, while RMIT previously stated the institution respects academic freedom but is looking into the matter.
The ACL now says on its website that the online forum has been “sold out”.