By Jennie-Louise Kendrick
Aug 09, 2018

As Time Ticks By, Uni Sticks to the Straight and Hetero

Just like the SPCA approve specific brands of supermarket-bought eggs, there is also a sticker of certification for businesses hoping to prove inclusivity of the gender and sexuality diverse. The Rainbow Tick is dubbed as a “confidence mark that signals businesses and organisations have reached a high standard of diversity”. The organisation boasts impressive clients like Coca-Cola Amatil, Westpac, ASB, and EY. Nestled amongst the high-flying corporations and top law firms, there are two tertiary institutions with the tick: AUT and Massey University. 

Nexus sat down with AUT Student Association General Manager Will Watterson to discuss their experiences with the Rainbow Tick organisation and asked the question “why aren’t we certified yet?”

The process seems thorough; the Rainbow Tick team provides the client with tools to change the culture and environment, helping to create policies and procedures will “drive a supportive and productive workplace that specifically recognises and welcomes sexual and gender diversity”. 

While it is illegal in New Zealand to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, the organisation makes a valid point to point out that most companies “don’t know what they don’t know” and may struggle to see the importance and benefits of working with the Rainbow community to ensure inclusivity. 

Will Watterson was confident that the one training session, and the upcoming session in August, was beneficial for AUT staff.

‘I definitely think the Rainbow Tick certification and associated training has a lot of value and would recommend it to other universities and student unions… training was very effective at equipping us as a student union with some new perspectives and tools to think about how we can make the university a safer and more welcoming space for LGBTTQIA+ staff and students.

‘It has challenged us to look at our organisation policy and processes in a new light and begun an ongoing and emerging conversation about how AUTSA can make our workplace more positive and inclusive for the LGBTTQIA+ community.’

Nexus contacted Vice-Chancellor Neil Quigley to see what, if not Rainbow Tick, the University was doing to improve campuses for queer people. 

‘Earlier this year, the University considered a proposal to apply for the Rainbow Tick accreditation scheme and a decision was [made] not to proceed with the formal accreditation process at that time because we knew we had further work to do to become compliant’ said Quigley. 

‘One of the areas where we know there are substantial costs involved to meet the requirements is all gender bathrooms… we have a number of all gender bathrooms around the Hillcrest campus, and they are now included in all our plans for new buildings (such as the Hamilton Law building and new Tauranga campus), as well as when we are undertaking refurbishments.’

Nexus reached out to students and staff in the Rainbow Community to get their honest thoughts about their experiences. 

Third-year Hamilton campus student Danielle Marks alleged that they had ‘seen thousands of emails for the university over the past year to include gender-neutral toilets with no recognition’. Marks, a bisexual genderqueer person, was clear in their feelings about the issue of rainbow inclusivity.

‘There is hardly a queer culture on campus in Hamilton. My friends in Tauranga have made an amazing effort to make it loud and proud with the ability to ask questions about the LGBTTQIA+ community, but here in Hamilton, all we have is a room tucked away in the corner where we play board games...I don’t feel safe in the university community and society as a whole…’

Haring*, a staff member, was apprehensive to be named but was happy to comment anonymously. 

‘Universities should function as epicentres of social discussion, diversity and representation. The inexcusable silence from those in power regarding any queer issues or inclusion has been heartbreaking. Supporting the queer community is an act, not a passive political stance—I’ve seen very little participation from UoW, WSU (and at times Nexus magazine) when it comes to making the Hamilton campus a welcoming place for queer students.’

According to their website, the benefit of the Rainbow Tick is that it “[allows the organisation] to show employees, customers and the wider world that you are a progressive, inclusive and dynamic organisation that reflects the community you are based in.”

UniQ Waikato told Nexus:

‘While we’re not familiar with Rainbow Tick’s process or qualifications for their assessment, we believe that what they are doing is beneficial to the whole community, both the LGBTTQIA+ and takatāpui community, and the larger community.’

Waikato, despite being the youngest university, does not seem to be setting trends amongst the seven universities regarding social equality movements. 

While the Rainbow Tick requires yearly investment, it does seek to benefit the client. If the perks of inclusivity are more monetary than organisational difference, there’s a problem. Any commerce student will know that a Rainbow Tick falls under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Lots can be said about the widespread use of “ethical” endorsement by companies; the questionable effects of products touting pink ribbons, the heart-healthy tick, or the endorsement of “eco-friendly” practices. Without accountability and transparency, businesses stand to make a lot of money off the “Pink Dollar” by “pink-washing”—mildly offensive terms for making a product, service or university seemingly more queer-friendly to cash in—but it can misrepresent and trivialise the struggle of equality of the sexually and gender diverse. 

*Some names have been changed to protect anonymity. 

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