This letter will be featured in Issue #8 of Wom*news.
University of Queensland Union
30 October 2012
I write to you on behalf of Sappho’s Sisters to express my concern over a recent decision to change the closing time of the Women’s Room and the Queer Room to 6pm. Sappho’s Sisters is a social group for queer women, which meets weekly in the evenings. Given that there is no good alternative to the Women’s Room as a meeting place, this decision is of great concern to our group.
I have described Sappho’s Sisters as a social group, but in truth it also functions as a support group for women exploring their sexuality, allowing them to meet with other like-minded women in a comfortable environment. To that end, the fact that we have a comfortable and discreet venue is essential to our existence. Those qualities of the women’s room are enhanced in the evenings, when the Women’s Room is quieter and we regularly have the space to ourselves. When it came to writing this letter, I asked members of Sappho’s Sisters and the Queer and Women’s Collectives to share with me their personal experiences of the rooms and our group. These submissions consistently described Sappho’s Sisters and the Women’s Room as safe spaces and explained how empowering it is to be part of a queer community.
Other members of the community have expressed concern about the continued importance of the Women’s and Queer Rooms as safe spaces for women and queer students if they are not open in the evening, a time at which students may feel more vulnerable.
We have spoken to staff working in the other parts of the union building and in the university at large, who are unaware of this fire safety protocol, and who find that their workplaces do not insist on the firewarden remaining behind to keep the office open later. We understand that you draw a distinction between staff and students, but are unsure as to where this distinction originates.
Having brought the importance of having evening access to the Women’s Room to your attention, I hope you will consider other ways to meet the Union’s safety obligations. We have several suggestions which could help further reduce the risk of fire, such as installing a sign on the microwave, warning users to stay in the kitchen and to be aware of the risk of fire. An additional step might be to install a door on the kitchen which could be locked after hours. Current fire safety measures such as the fire extinguisher and the fire blanket could be reevaluated and strengthened. Group members could undergo training as firewardens, or a union staff member could be paid to stay back later one or two nights a week. Given that the cleaners are already in the building from 8pm until 10pm, this does not seem overly onerous. I speak for the group as a whole when I say that we would be keen to meet to discuss your safety concerns and how to address them moving forward.
Writing on behalf of Sappho’s Sisters
Indigo wrote: Those nights kept me sane in times of confusion. I made firm friends and have become comfortable in my own skin largely due to the relaxing, engaging, non-political discussions/events organised through Sapphos. Future UQ students need that refuge!
Emma wrote: The women and queer rooms are not only places where communities such as the Sappho’ Sisters, UQ Women’s Collective and UQ Queer Collective come together. These rooms are safe spaces for relevant students at UQ to seek refuge if they feel threatened on campus. A large majority of women don’t feel safe at night on campus – and I am one of them. While we could talk forever about how that should not be the case, this fear is in fact a reality; it is realised, founded and sincere. I do not feel at all safe on campus at night, and when I have had lectures that finish at 7pm or 8pm at night, the rooms have been a place where I know I can be safe. That reassurance stops the anxiety many of us face on campus at night by even just knowing that the rooms are there if we ever need them. Let me be very clear. This newly imposed 6pm curfew does not annoy me. It scares me. And I am sure I am not alone.
Annie Danks wrote: I remember standing at the bottom of those steps and the successive excuses I made to explain my presence as I ascended. I was going to the bathroom, I was lost, I was looking for the Women’s Room – not all feminists were lesbians, after all. Once I got there I found a community which was welcoming and supportive. I would have been even more terrified had I had to walk into a gay bar to find that sort of community and it is a measure of how Sappho’s Sisters has helped me that I am writing this letter to you today under my real name.
Sarah wrote: Sapphos is so important to me because I find it hard to fit into the Queer Collective as a whole. When it comes to Sapphos, it’s so much calmer as a
smaller group of queer women so we have more time and input to organise events like movie nights, club outings and camping trips. I feel like I actually belong because everyone’s so compassionate and understanding. I feel a community happening!
Laura wrote: I might not attend as many meetings as I’d like, but knowing that a safe space exists for me on campus means more than I could possibly begin to explain.
Keely Gordon-King wrote: Through sapphos you can build a queer network and that is absolutely invaluable. I really do think that the queer community has unique cultural values and it can be really alienating to be trapped in a heteronormative culture which doesn’t have the same norms or values as your community. I used to live in college, and I would feel this huge sense of relief and belonging every time I walked into sapphos. It’s a place where I am actually accepted and appreciated, rather than just tolerated.
Casey wrote: I do hope they leave the rooms open after 6pm, sappho’s was essential to me during my coming-out identity-forming/exploring time!
Rosie wrote: Knowing that the Women’s Room is open in the evenings forms an indescribably important feature of UQ. Most obviously, it is reassuring to know that there is a secure space on campus in the evenings. As a victim of sexual assault, I already find being on campus in the evenings an uncomfortable experience. Knowing that the Women’s and Queer Rooms are now closed in the evenings makes me even more anxious about being on campus in the evenings.