Paving the road to inclusion

UQ graduate Luke Furness leads the Queensland arm of Out for Australia – a national LGBTIQ charity that provides mentoring and support to young university students of all genders and sexualities. Luke’s vision is for Australia to be the most safe, comfortable and supportive country in the world for LGBTIQ students and international visitors. He shares his experience about covering up his sexuality while growing up Namibia.

It was at the age of 19 in the back of my father’s  Toyota Land Cruiser that I told my first lie about my sexuality. We were on our way to Talismanus, a small regional outpost town in the middle of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia. “Why didn’t you bring your girlfriend for us to meet?” asked my cousin, who was with us in Land Cruiser. Panic set in. The punishment for gays in Namibia isn’t jail time, but you do endure the consequences solitarily.

So I lied: of course I had a girlfriend.  She was young.  She was intelligent.  She was energetic.  And best of all, she was a total knock-out (a comment met with both admiration and salivation).  To this day, she is the best fiction I have ever created, her biography the product of intra-family deception.  It’s hard deceiving your family; first because you have to live with the fact, second, because they can’t support you, and third, because they always find out.

In the most abbreviated form possible, this is my story.  It’s one of the 250,000 stories across Australia of what it’s like to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ).  Some are funny, some are heartbreaking, some are uplifting, and some end like no story ever should.  Each story is a gift of immense therapy not only to the narrator, but to anyone within earshot.  And with technology and social media delivering us to almost all of the world’s ears, the opportunity to share rich stories of diversity has never been easier.

That’s why I joined Out for Australia, a national LGBTIQ charity that provides mentoring and support to young university students of all genders and sexualities.  I am the coordinator of our operations in Queensland.  We provide tomorrow’s leaders with the strength and encouragement they need today and introduce them to employers who embrace diversity to start their journey to success.  Our mentors have helped their mentees selected courses and degrees. They’ve talked career paths and opportunities.  They’ve helped mentees transition to work in tough new environments.  And yes, they have even taken phone calls discussing (and sometimes lamenting) the results of coming out to mum and dad, brothers and sisters, colleagues and managers.

Luke with three of his brothers in Talismanus in 2012

Our mentors include LGBTIQ leaders of exceptional character.  They are trained both by Out for Australia and by the education of their own extraordinary stories.  They have in mind a mission that so many people have (particularly later in life): to donate their experiences and lessons learned from them to the next generation – a generation hungry for advice and support.  Anyone that has had a great mentor (as I do) knows that a little guidance at one of life’s critical junctures can be the difference between scaling the mountain and tripping down the ravine.

Sometimes people think diversity and inclusion is about elevating one group over another without regard to ability.  I disagree.  Somebody asked me recently if surging support for organisations like Out for Australia meant it was a great time to be gay.  Of course the answer is that it is a great time to be great.  In the future, skill and ability are the only metrics for success.  All the sad, antique barriers of prejudice and discrimination (real or imagined) will fall, leaving the path to success clear for those who work hard and accomplish more.

The world is busy with need: it’s starving, it’s oppressed, it’s war-torn and it needs your urgent assistance in so many ways.  I hope that my way is to make Australia the most safe, comfortable and supportive country in the world for LGBTIQ students and our international visitors.  

Last updated:
27 June 2016