LGBTIQ+ Equality

Michael Crowhurst and Michael Emslie on Queerly identifying tertiary students experiences

In this article Michael Crowhurst and Michael Emslie, discuss their recent book, Working Creatively with Stories and Learning Experiences: Engaging with Queerly Identifying Tertiary Students.

In 2014 we were investigating the absence of demographic data that is inclusive of queerly identifying people in tertiary institutions (Crowhurst & Emslie, 2014). At this time we were aware that equity focused work in universities often tracks outcomes for specific cohorts of students and we wondered how it was possible for this to happen for queerly identifying students in the absence of any demographic data. We advocated for the collection of demographic data on queerly identifying tertiary students via relevant institutional channels however we encountered brick wall after brick wall. As a result of institutional resistances we decided to conduct a research project where we interviewed queerly identifying tertiary students about their experiences in Higher Education.

We went through ethics and commenced the project and stories started coming in. We were struck by the richness of the stories we were collecting from queerly identifying tertiary students. For example AV a 20 year old, Chinese student studying creative arts said:

I came out at the ripe age of 19 years old in June 2012, I first came out as a bisexual, I now identify myself as a lesbian, but I am still confused at times about my sexuality. I understand that there are heaps of people who identify as LGBTIQA do not particularly like labels, however, I would now label myself as a lesbian rather as a bisexual. When I first came out I would always say that I was 80% gay and 20% straight. Through time and as I made new gay friends, I realised how gay I was and how happy I was to be gay. As I discovered myself through my sexuality in the months after I've come out, I began stating the percentage to my gay mates, the more I hanged around my gay mates, the "gayer" I realised I was. The percentage of my "gayness" eventually came to be 95%, then 98%. Right now, I wouldn't say that I am 100% gay, I don't know where I stand but it would be close to 100%. (Crowhurst & Emslie, 2018, p. 18)

Kai is a 39 year old CALD student studying social work at post-graduate level at a university said in relation to the sorts of experiences they have had with other students:

One classmate who I told I was trans looked very confused and then said that I didn’t look at all like a man and that my transition was very successful. Of course I then had to say I wasn’t Male to female, but the other way around …

People got the pronouns wrong the first time I raised my gender identity – but like consistently wrong and this was with a group I was doing a project with – two were gay men. I corrected them for almost a whole semester and then gave up. (Crowhurst & Emslie, 2018, p. 54)

Brian a 29 year old Anglo Australian, studying education at a university described his experiences with other students:

As soon as we went on break I had an abundance of peers come up to me and without hesitation ask “Are you gay?”. I thought I had no reason to lie or negate the truth, so I simply responded with yes. This is where my problem began. A couple of vocal peers looked at me with disgust and said “You shouldn’t have been allowed into this course”. Immediately I became suspicious, why shouldn’t I be allowed into the course? So I asked, and was confronted with a response I wasn’t prepared for, and wish I had never gotten, as it will stay with me forever.

“Gay men who want to be primary school teachers are paedophiles.”

What the !!!!

(Crowhurst & Emslie, 2018, p. 30)

After collecting the stories we came to appreciate the depth and significance of what respondents had shared and we wanted to do them justice in how we shared them through our research. Historically academics have collected stories with the view that they might uncover, analyse and disseminate papers that reveal the truth of those stories, via their claims to be experts. In this project we seek to distance ourselves from such traditions and instead see our role and expertise in relation to the stories presented in this book as being to do with ethical collection and dissemination. One of the things this means for us is that we wanted to write a book where the stories were present in all of their length, depth, richness and complexity.

Similar to other academic work around LGBTIQA+ people and issues our work is politically engaged. Our interests in presenting rich stories intersected with an interest in exploring, describing and deploying a range of methods to analyse stories. One implication of presenting these stories of LGTIQA+ tertiary students besides and linked in with a diverse range of creative research methods means that the book has multiple audiences. One audience can be people interested in reading the rich and diverse stories, and another audience can be people interested in the research methods. For us, this means that one of the political dimensions of the book that is particularly relevant to Pride month is that people who engage with the book for the research methods are also exposed to the stories. This means the stories might travel to audiences that they may not usually reach.

Finally we would to like to note that to our knowledge there remains a widespread absence of demographic data that is inclusive of queerly identifying people collected in tertiary institutions and we feel it’s important that this is addressed. We also note that from our perspective that many of the participants spoke about how sexuality and gender identity mediated their learning experiences at university – this is also an area we feel requires greater attention. This can be achieved by further research that accesses the voices of queerly identifying people in tertiary institutions – particularly on the ways that student learning experiences and knowledge practices are mediated by sexuality and gender identity.

Michael Crowhurst is Lecturer in Education at RMIT University, Australia.

Michael Emslie is Lecturer in Youth Work at RMIT University, Australia.  



Crowhurst, M., & Emslie, M. (2014). Counting queers on campus: Collecting data on queerly identifying students In: Journal of LGBT Youth, 11, 276 – 288

Crowhurst, M., & Emslie, M. (2018). Working Creatively with Stories and Learning Experiences: Engaging with queerly identifying tertiary students. Palgrave MacMillan, Cham, Switzerland.