We spoke to Senior Lecturer Julie Douglas about the history of the support network for Rainbow staff and students and how it has developed over the years since its establishment.
Today, Out@AUT is a social club and support network for AUT’s Rainbow communities, with one network for staff, and one for students, run by student association AUTSA.
We spoke to Senior Lecturer Julie Douglas about the history of the network and how it has developed over the years since its establishment.
The AUT Rainbow community began to develop in the early 1990’s when AUT academics Lynne Giddings and the late Don Gooder sent out a message to lesbian, gay and transgender people letting them know a loose connection was forming through AUT’s phone system.
“They received a lot of quite vicious, nasty feedback from people who felt offended that this was coming through the AUT system, that it was just wrong to be used for such purposes. They battled quite hard against all that,” Julie said.
The network started to develop as an informal social group to give people support and to reach out and let students know there were rainbow staff they could go to, to show them there was a safe place at AUT.
In the 1990’s, staff networks began to approach General Manager, the late Jonathan Blakeman to get funding for their activities. This took the group to the next level, and with technology developing, the network was able to exist online.
Julie began at AUT in 2000, and quickly got involved with the network, leading the tightknit group for a number of years.
“We would meet at Craven A, that was our spot. We would laugh and have fun, because if you have a meeting, you’ve got to have fun. That was kind of a principle.”
Out of these coffee meetings, came various events and activities.
The group put on a public lecture series, including Professor Marilyn Waring who spoke about marriage equality before she joined AUT.
Out@AUT was involved with Orientation, welcoming new Rainbow students.
“Invariably, Derek McCormack would come along and welcome those who identified as LGBTQI community at the beginning. It was very significant to have Derek there saying you’re welcome at this institution. It was a really important message, and established the importance of the group,” Julie said.
Other achievements included developing the student network, a network across Auckland Institutions, named QuTER or ‘cuter’ (Queers in Tertiary Education and Research), and a conference with international speakers and politicians.
Julie highlighted a particular Pride March, where entertainer Mika joined AUT through Te Ara Poutama, inviting students to join the AUT float.
The float featured a harbour bridge (an indication of building bridges with community development), and Mika choregraphed a dance for the AUT group down Karangahape Road.
“It was a really organic, informal group which was about having good support. It was also about being a watchdog. We felt that although we were funded by AUT, our role was to ensure AUT did the right thing. We’d meet with the Vice-Chancellor and discuss issues and keep pushing.”
Julie said when Professor Welby Ings joined AUT, it was a big plus, as he led the group for a number of years and brought a fresh outlook.
“Out@AUT came from a history of invisibility and being marginalised. It was to serve both staff and students and took something that had traditionally been in our culture called a family. It was something that we might be able to draw on the collective talents to make safer places for our people in the university. It was always understood that we were family,” Welby said.
Julie said the group were always keen to be seen as a group to who could be consulted on ideas.
They had a major win in 2011, when Assistant VC Strategy, Students & Marketing Jenny Bygrave was reviewing the charter and went through a consultation process. The network was involved in establishing the rainbow communities as a group AUT has a responsibility for in the strategic plan.
Julie explained that the group has evolved over time with AUT receiving the Rainbow Tick, establishing a Rainbow Room and Rainbow Community Coordinator role.
She said the people involved in the early days were bold and courageous, putting in a lot of hard work to get it to where it is today.
Research Assistant and PhD candidate Blair Speakman says being part of the network is ultimately, good fun.
“We have so much fun organising events, hanging out and meeting and new people. I’ve really found my voice in helping with the running of the student community here. I’ve really enjoyed it, lots of positive memories,” he said.