‘I felt like they said it directly to me’: Why I’m speaking out as a proud, queer student

Publication date
Monday, 26 Jun 2023

By Isaac Kozlovskis

A man in a brightly coloured shirt sitting on a couch
Isaac Kozlovskis. Photo: Nic Vevers/ANU

My name is Isaac, I am a queer student at ANU studying a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science.  I moved to ANU from Brisbane in 2020 and lived in campus accommodation.

One of the first things we did in our residential hall was a panel discussion in the form of the TV show You Can’t Ask That. Students were encouraged to write in questions about gender and sexuality which were then answered publicly in a judgement-free space. Having felt very isolated in my identity, I was excited that my new friends were also keen to go along.

In response to a question about feeling the need to rush the process of self-discovery and acceptance, one of the panellists reassured those of us in the audience that there was no right way to go about being yourself, and certainly no timeframe that was normal.

It felt to me like she had looked me in the eye and said it directly to me. I don’t think I realised how much I needed to hear that, to hear there were countless more people out there who were safe, welcomed, and thriving being unapologetically themselves.

That was my first experience of queerness at in Canberra. Since then, I have had the space to learn to love who I am, and a community to celebrate alongside. I wonder if the panellist even remembers her words, but more than three years later, I still think about it all the time. It’s a testament to how vitally important our words can be for other people’s journeys.

I really wasn’t sure how my identity or my acceptance of myself would change when I moved to Canberra. Growing up I was called my fair share of names; I knew it was bad to be gay before I knew what being gay was.

Like most school students in Australia, I grew up hearing homophobic language in school – somewhere which should have been a safe space to learn and grow. It’s hard not to internalise, and it is a journey to un-learn guilt and shame that festers from internalised homophobia. When you think like this, pride is just out of the question.

I’m lucky to have grown up with a great network of friends and family who I knew would always love me for who I am. But despite this support, my journey with understanding myself has not been rapid or linear. It has been a deeply challenging. I have felt small, meek and alone.

But this hardship is not unique, and there is support to be found in these shared experiences. The more time I spent listening to queer stories, the more I have felt comfortable in my own skin. I see this as a continuous process of growth.

Being proud of who I am is an act of rebellion against the loneliness, the fear, the shame and guilt that I have felt all my life for who I am. 

For the whole ANU community, and for us as Australians, we have lots of progress to celebrate, but our work is not over. Complacency and ignorance give the space for queerphobia to persist. When we speak out against it, we are showing that there is, unequivocally, love and room for queer people, and I feel like I have a role to play in helping other people to see that.

Since starting at ANU, I have made lifelong friends and have grown to love myself more than I ever thought possible. Being myself isn’t mortifying anymore, and I’m not scared to be proud. I don’t think the high school version of me could have predicted that I would be comfortable to raise my voice this loud.

I’m sure there will be many more beautiful memories that I will make at ANU, but a highlight came a year after I moved here. One year after having my life changed by watching that You Can’t Ask That-style panel discussion, I was asked to participate in one myself. This time, it was me up on the stage, reassuring the audience.

I couldn’t have been happier to be there.

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