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In/visibility on campus? Gender and sexuality diversity in tertiary institutions


This paper draws on the largest and most comprehensive Australian research to date that explores the campus climate for sexuality and gender diverse (SGD) people at one university. Using a mixed-method approach that incorporated an online survey open to all students and staff (n = 2395), face-to-face in-depth interviews with key stakeholders (n = 16) and an online document analysis, the study explored participants’ perceptions and attitudes to sexuality and gender diversity on campus, experiences of in/exclusion, (un)safe places, visibility in public online documents, and the campus-based services available to support SGD individuals. The findings point to the ongoing exclusion experienced by SGD people across the university. We show how exclusion serves to silence individuals across multiple levels and how this, in turn, limits the visibility of, and redress for, exclusion, impacting on health and well-being. This tension, we posit, can only be addressed safely and holistically through proactive and strategic endeavours on the part of the institution; without which, exclusion will continue to prevail.

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  1. Throughout this research, the term sexuality and gender diverse/diversity (SGD) is employed as it is more inclusive of a range of diversities than are other terms/acronyms frequently employed in this research space (e.g. LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender]). It should be noted that the authors are aware of the limitations of much of the terminology used and acknowledge that its use may appear to normalise cisgender and heterosexuality, positioning other gender and sexuality subjectivities as abnormal and constructing a false divide. This is not the intention of the authors or this research. Moreover, use of sexuality and gender diverse aligns with the language of cultural and linguistic diversity (CALD) used in Australian policy and practice. The acronym LGBTIQ[A+] (or its variations) is only used when referencing, or alluding to, other research that has used those terms or a variation of them.

  2. Cisgender refers to people who identify with their gender assigned at birth.

  3. Heterosexism is a system of discrimination and bias based on the assumption that heterosexuality is the only normal sexuality and superior to other forms of sexuality.

  4. Heteronormativity refers to a system that normalises heterosexuality as the only natural/normal sexual orientation and assumes that sexual relationships involve people of the opposite sex.

  5. Cisnormative, or cisnormativity, refers to the notion that all people are assumed to be cisgender and that this is normal (Logie et al. 2012).

  6. For a detailed discussion of this, including the ways in which media fuelled the backlash, see Law (2017).

  7. The term ‘exclusion’ in this discussion refers to the various experiences reported by respondents that demonstrate the violence underlying cissexism and heterosexism; it includes institutional (in)action as well as interpersonal micro-aggressions. The research considers all forms of heterosexism and cissexism as exclusion.

  8. For a more detailed discussion of the quantitative data collected in this study, please see Ferfolja et al. (2018) and Asquith et al. (2018). In this paper, due to brevity, it is not possible to fully document these results and the quantitative statistical analyses underpinning our arguments in relation to in/visibility.

  9. Data cleansing occurred in three stages: First, participants who left the survey before completing the initial demographic and perceived safety on campus questions were removed. This resulted in exclusion of 698 participants. Next, non-serious responses were screened out. Eight respondents were excluded on this basis, as inferred from their responses to text entry questions. For example, when asked to indicate gender, several respondents reported that they identified as ‘attack helicopters’. Finally, surveys were screened for poor-comprehension, resulting in the exclusion of data from four participants.

  10. The ALLY network is a group of staff and students who are formally recognised as supportive individuals for LGBTIQ+ staff and students across the university. They undergo LGBTIQ+ training and often have visible markers of support (rainbow badges, postcards etc.) in their workspaces.

  11. The Queer Collective is a space for LGBTQ+ people who mostly communicate and organise events online. At this university, the Queer Collective is comprised, in the main, of students.

  12. It should be pointed out that the university’s ‘Sexuality and Gender Diversity Strategy 2017–2020’ became publicly available post-data collection and analysis; as a result, a number of strategic implementations carried out after this stage are not included herein.


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The authors would like to acknowledge and thank the many research participants who made this study possible.


This study was majorly financed by the Office of People and Advancement at Western Sydney University. Financial and material support were also provided by the School of Social Science and Psychology and the School of Education.

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Correspondence to Tania Ferfolja.

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Ferfolja, T., Asquith, N., Hanckel, B. et al. In/visibility on campus? Gender and sexuality diversity in tertiary institutions. High Educ 80, 933–947 (2020).

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  • Gender
  • Sexuality
  • University
  • Discrimination
  • LGBT+
  • Australia