The Study Melbourne Student Centre hosted 'A Walk in My Shoes' on Friday 20 September. The event included a panel discussion and a gallery of photographs that celebrated diversity, inclusion and queer identity across Melbourne’s international student and migrant community.
Samantha Chew, organiser and Meld Magazine editor, and Emily Hua, photographer spoke to Study Melbourne Ambassadors, Tejas Deshmukh and Felycia Viffany at the exhibition.
Why are events like ‘A Walk in My Shoes’ important for the international student community?
SAM: It is important to have events for international students all the time to foster community bonds, but in this case it’s very special and that I don’t think we have ever really celebrated queer international students.
The queer international community can look all different kinds of ways and we are all different kind of colours and sizes. The importance in that is people see themselves reflected and represented and they feel they can contribute to the community.
As a first-time international student when you are new to Melbourne, it can be quite daunting to come here alone. In first six months you feel like, ‘my family isn’t here, I have got no friends, I don’t have a community yet,’ and for introverts sometimes it takes time for us to get out of our shell. I think having events continuously helps them find people they are meant to find.
What are the strengths of the international LGBTIQA+ community in Melbourne and how do these photographs reflect the queer international student community?
EMILY: I think the LGBTIQA+ community is incredibly vibrant. I understand that acceptance and visibility of this community differs from country to country, but overall, I have found that there is a strong sense of belonging. These LGBTIQA+ communities are marvellous as they also provide a safe space for queer individuals.
I chose to photograph people from LGBTIQA+ backgrounds for two reasons. The first came from a curious place, I was curious to know what it’s like to grow up queer in Colombia, China, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East, among other places.
The other reason I chose to pursue ‘A Walk in My Shoes’ was to show the diversity that exists beyond queer stereotypes. Like many queer people, I don’t fit my stereotype, and I am learning how to be comfortable in that ‘uncomfortability’. I wanted to smash the stereotypical way people see bisexuals, lesbians, gays, transwomen and transmen.
I wanted a range of people to engage with the photographs, meet the people behind them, and listen to others who have been through the journey. And for queer international students, I hope they walked away knowing that people care, that the times are changing, and that their identity is just as legitimate as everybody else’s.
Study Melbourne is committed to providing a supportive and inclusive environment for LGBTIQA+ students.
It supports a range of services for LGBTIQA+ international students in Melbourne, including Rainbow Connections and the Rainbow International Students Network (RIS’N).
Take a look at this Meld Magazine profile of RIS’N to find out more.