Pride Week: 5 alumni championing diversity and inclusion
From 26-30 October, we’re celebrating Pride Week here at UTS. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at the proud members of the LGBTIQA+ community who have graduated from UTS and gone on to do amazing things with their careers.
The queer community at UTS is a vibrant and thriving one, so it’s hard to spotlight just 5 alumni making a difference in their chosen fields. From creative pursuits, to business, to law, UTS graduates are making a name for themselves and advocating for their community at the same time. Let’s take a look at just a few.
Jordan Bryon – filmmaker and Creative Director at Off the Record Productions
After completing their Media Arts & Production degree in 2010, genderqueer filmmaker and activist Bryon went on to create a wide range of works with great social and cultural impact.
Although they completed their studies here at UTS, Bryon’s work has taken them all over the world, sharing stories from Afghanistan, Jordan, Palestine, Uganda, India, Japan, Ecuador, Peru and Australia in films, TV series and commercials.
Most recently, Bryon’s own documentary Birds of the Borderlands (2019) has been met with great acclaim, premiering at the Mardi Gras Film festival in 2018 and going on to be shown at 12 other international film festivals. Prompted by the Islamaphobic and Arabphobic media they saw in Australia, Bryon’s documentary is a brave and unflinching look at four queer Arab stories from their home at the time, Amman.
One of the defining realisations of Bryon’s career is that:
“…social change through storytelling can have immediate impacts (films like Blackfish, Bully, The Invisible War and Lion had brilliant social impact campaigns around them) but mostly shifting attitudes is the first step and then behavioural change takes tiiiiiime!” (x)
Nicholas Stewart – Partner at Dowson Turco Lawyers
Stewart completed a Bachelor of Laws in 2009, and went on to receive the UTS Community Alumni Award 2018.
His career has always been focused on social justice and inclusion. Even while working corporate roles in organisations like Nine Network, MinterEllison and Optus, Stewart has focused on using his privilege for good. He served as President for Caretakers Cottage, a refuge for homeless youth, and volunteered and sat on boards for the likes of Rainbow Families NSW, Inner City Legal Centre, and the LGBTI subcommittee at Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.
Currently a partner at Dowson Turco Lawyers, a Newtown-based “out loud and proud” LGBTI law firm, Stewart’s career has recently seen him campaigning for an inquiry into the unjust murders of over 80 gay men and transgender people before 2000 in targeted hate crimes.
So how did his passion for social justice start? With a professional development move: volunteering for Lifeline in 2003 to develop communications skills!
“Initially it was strategic rather than being about helping. But it exposed me to a side of society that needed help and I became conscious of how privileged I am.”
“I want justice for the victims and I want to see the police force acknowledge that gay men, trans people, and lesbians – to some extent – were treated differently to other victims of crime.” (x)
Jeremy Fisher – Author
Fisher completed a Doctor of Creative Arts at UTS in 2003 (and has received several other qualifications from UTS), but his career has been extensive and prolific, earning him the Order of Australia Medal in 2017 for his “service to literature, to education and to professional organisations”.
Fisher’s advocacy for the queer community started early, his involvement with the Gay Liberation movement commencing in 1972 with his move from Goulbourn to Sydney. In 1978, Fisher attended Sydney’s first Mardi Gras; a far cry from today’s weeks of celebration and revelry, this event was more of a protest than a march.
This spurned a passion for activism that Fisher carried into his future career, fighting for authors’ rights as part of his role in the Australian Society of Authors, and through the creation of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. His extensive oeuvre of published works including Perfect Timing (1993), Music from Another Country (2009), How to Tell Your Father to Drop Dead (2013) and The Dirty Little Dog (2016), have made profound impacts on Australia’s queer literary scene.
How has Australian culture changed since he first started working?
‘Before [the 1970s], gay people were invisible. But by saying, “don’t throw me out of college, here I am, I’m not going away,” we established a visibility that then eventually allows parents to say, “I can accept my gay children. They’re there, and they should have the same rights”.’ (x)
Carlo Velayo – Film Producer
Velayo graduated from Media Arts and Production and International Studies degrees in 2007, since working as a producer on several feature films and documentaries.
Velayo’s most recent producing role was for Lingua Franca (2020), the output of celebrated Filipina director Isabel Sandoval, the first transwoman of colour to write, direct and headline a film at the Venice Film Festival. Lingua Franca follows the story of Olivia, a trans Filipina navigating life, culture, and immigration in America.
As a person of colour, immigrant, and gay man, Velayo is passionate about telling the stories of marginalised people; his previous collaboration with fellow UTS alumni Jessica Thompson – The Light of the Moon (2017) – delved into sexual assault, while his upcoming project Park Avenue will also focus on the story of a Filipina immigrant in the US.
On the importance of art in creating a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people:
“Film has been a way for me to explore my own sexuality, both during uni and after. Uni was instrumental in my coming out and becoming who I am.” (x)
Dawn Hough – Director of Pride Inclusion Programs at ACON
Hough completed a Bachelor of Education in 1999, and has since worked as a part-time lecturer of postgraduate students here at UTS.
Since starting with ACON, a New South Wales-based organisation providing services and support to LGBTIQA+ people, Hough has dedicated her career to advocating for queer people in the workplace and beyond. She spearheaded ACON’s Pride in Diversity Program and the Australian Workplace Equality Index, growing these programs to national and international recognition.
Hough’s published works – including Let’s Talk Gender (2015), Employers’ Guide to Intersex Inclusion (2014), and Engaging Allies for Change (2013) – also target LGBTIQA+ career inclusion, earning her world-wide speaking engagements on the topics of best practice in the workplace. She has recently been focusing on LGBTIQA+ representation in sport, introducing ACON’s Pride in Sport Program and the world’s first national sports index.
Her advocacy for diversity and inclusion at work is hard-won and personal:
“I have been in the workforce for 35 years, I have been with my same-sex partner for 32 of those years. However, I have only been “out” for eight.
When you spend that much time hiding who you are for fear of what people will think, your self esteem and sense of self worth plummets. You are overly aware of what you cannot say, what you cannot do, what you must pretend to be, just to do your job. That’s not good for you and it’s certainly not good for an employer.”
So what’s her advice to members of the LGBTIQA+ entering the workplace, based on personal experience?
“Don’t waste your years pretending to be someone you’re not. There are some great organisations out there where you can be yourself.” (x)
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash
Lily Cameron is a writer and editor based in Sydney. She is a UTS Communications (Creative Writing) graduate, and current Communications Assistant at UTS Careers. She is passionate about telling stories, both hers and others’, and the way digital and social media is changing the literary landscape. Her writing has appeared in Voiceworks, The Brag, and elsewhere.