The Rainbow Project (2001) was a ground-breaking 12-month program to ascertain staff and student attitudes to sexuality.

It led to the establishment of the Ally Network in 2002.

    Background

    While many universities incorporated sexual orientation or preference in equal opportunity policies, they had not translated this commitment into culture change strategies `on the ground?. In addition, there continued to be a paucity of sexuality research in higher education.

    The project aimed to:

    • determine the UWA 'campus climate' with respect to staff and student attitudes to sexuality
    • identify key attitudes and behaviours which gave rise to discrimination
    • identify key issues faced by UWA gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered and intersex (GLBTI) staff

    This initiative coincided with the anticipated passing of legislation to incorporate gender identity and sexual orientation into the scope of the WA Equal Opportunity Act in late 2001 and 2002.

    A representative sample of students was surveyed. Through a series of statements, students reported their experiences with, attitudes toward and level of awareness of LGBTI people and their issues. Staff perceptions were assessed through two informal forums.

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    Key findings

    Students

    • UWA was generally a positive environment for LGBTI people, but there remained a number of sexuality concerns that needed to be addressed
    • Most students reported having heard derogatory remarks made about LGBTI people, but few had spoken out against those comments.
    • Many students, particularly young heterosexual males, were uncomfortable with public displays of affection by LGBTI people.
    • Negative stereotyping of gay men and lesbians occurred.
    • Students reported a low level of awareness of transgender issues.

    Staff

    Staff perceptions were assessed through two informal forums that revealed that UWA was generally a positive environment for LGBTI people. Both LGBTI and non-LGBTI staff reported that discrimination and harassment occurred in some areas and that there was a need for greater awareness of GLBTI people and issues.

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    Recommendations

    The Rainbow Project Report recommended that staff development programs address sexuality and that a network of advocates for LGBTI staff and students be established.

    The findings of the Rainbow Report led to the development of the Ally initiative, launched in 2002.

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    Rainbow Project report

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