Celebrating LGBTIQA+ researchers and research (James Burford)

Image by Anna Cruz | Unsplash 

From 12-16 April 2021, La Trobe University is celebrating PRIDE week

PRIDE Week is a fantastic opportunity to show support for our sex, gender, and sexuality diverse community members. La Trobe University is fortunate to have researchers undertaking innovative LGBTIQA+ scholarship. 

For the next few posts, the RED Alert blog will be sharing posts focused on the experiences of our diverse LGBTIQA+ researchers and profile some of the fantastic LGBTIQA+ research that our scholars are contributing to. 

Follow #LTUPRIDE2021 if you are participating online! 


Warm PRIDE Week greetings everyone! 

During PRIDE Week, we acknowledge the contribution that LGBTIQA+ researchers make to the La Trobe University community and our wider world.  

I am thrilled to be kicking off our special PRIDE series in the RED Alert where we will share the experiences of our LGBTIQA+ researchers at La Trobe, and profile some of the pioneering LGBTIQA+ research projects that our scholars are undertaking. 

Why PRIDE matters to me

#LTUPRIDE2021 is personal to me because I am a member of the LGBTIQA+ community and because my own politics and intellectual work are deeply intertwined with the project of transforming inequitable presents and imagining better futures for LGBTIQA+ folks. 

I still remember the day when I was a baby Masters student sitting in during a human geography conference on campus. I'd been allowed to come along (and feast on all the free muffins) so long as I volunteered to deal with any of the tech issues that might arise (fortunately, none did!). 

One morning, I squeezed into a session on queer and feminist geographies and I watched speakers present work on the experiences of queer and trans folks. Sitting at the back of the room, it dawned on me that it might be possible to do research like this, that the questions I had about sexuality and gender didn't have to remain 'personal' questions. Rather, they could become significant avenues of intellectual inquiry worthy of writing and research and even presentations and audiences. 

Gingerly, I contacted a potential supervisor in my department and shared some ideas for a possible Masters thesis, half expecting her to tell me that these were personal preoccupations and not something appropriate for 'research'. However, the opposite was true. Together, we dreamed up a Masters project where I would go to Bangkok for five months and work alongside non-governmental organisations serving khon-tii-mii-khwaam-laak-laai-thaang-pheet (Thai people of diverse sexualities/genders), in particular looking at the programs that supported men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women. I ended up writing a Masters thesis that examined the kinds of relationships these organisations developed with their donors (see here [subscription only]). 

Researcher on location in Bangkok! 

My initial research experiences opened up so many things: a taste of the creative possibilities of research, a love of Thailand and the Thai language, and a passion and commitment to queer and trans advocacy and development. From my Masters research experience, I went on to a couple of different gigs in queer and trans community development in New Zealand, including working as a support coordinator for queer/trans staff and students and then as a youth worker for LGBTIQA+ young people. This connected through to my PhD experience, where I decided I wanted to spend a lot of time reading queer and feminist theory and thinking through what this work could do if animated in the unfamiliar context of doctoral education scholarship (see here [subscription only]). 

During and after my PhD, I have been fortunate to work on different LGBTIQA+ research and writing projects. Often the most joyful part of this process has been working with fellow LGBTIQA+ collaborators, who have become mentors and dear friends. I've collaborated on projects that look at what happens when we take gender and sexuality diversity workshops into New Zealand secondary schools (see here [subscription only]), the impact of cisnormativity in New Zealand education (see here [subscription only]) and what it might mean to queer fat trans embodiment  (see here [subscription only]). I've also contributed to projects on the role of socio-economic status in the experiences of  LGBTI Exclusion and Discrimination in Thailand (see here [subscription only]). These projects have not only allowed me to spend time undertaking creative intellectual work with other  LGBTIQA+ researchers, activists and artists, they have also been profoundly transformative for me as a person. I am no longer the tentative student who wonders if the questions that matter to me also matter to others. Instead, I am a scholar who recognises the contribution I can make in the world via my research, advocacy, and teaching. 

A couple of parting reflections 

PRIDE is important because such visibility can illuminate the path for others. As in my story above, I needed to know other researchers were doing queer and trans research before I felt it might be possible for me to do the same. I still remember being a student who scanned staff doors for rainbow stickers, or looked through course outlines, policies, or publication lists to see if I might see myself reflected back in them.

In my experience, another part of being an openly queer person on a university campus is having an open door for other LGBTIQA+ folks who might be having a rough time of things. I am so grateful each time a staff member or student has reached out to me to grab a coffee or have a private chat. My door is always open because I know we need each other. I also know that I have benefitted enormously from the brave trailblazing of other LGBTIQA+ staff who have opened doors for me.  

As I began writing this post, I wanted to exclaim 'Happy PRIDE!'. 

However, I think it's important to hold space for the complex array of feelings that researchers might be having this week. 

While for many researchers, joining a community of other LGBTIQA+ researchers is often empowering and affirming, for others a more complex series of feelings might also take hold. As many of the posts in this series will reveal, lots of researchers set out on LGBTIQA+ research projects because of painful experiences in their personal or professional lives and a desire to make a difference in the world. Others may find that enacting PRIDE means having tough conversations, or what Sara Ahmed calls enacting killjoy commitments in order to be an advocate for change. For some of us, 'pride' itself might feel like a challenging emotion to settle on, and that's okay. 

Rather than insisting on happiness in this post, I want to wish everyone a meaningful PRIDE, whether this means celebrating and reveling in all things LGBTIQA+, learning/unlearning about our communities at the various activities that are on this week, thinking about the diversity and gaps between different community members who shelter under the rainbow umbrella, or finding another way to uplift yourself or your LGBTIQA+ researcher colleagues.    

Fortunately, this week I am writing alongside a fabulous community of other scholars who have offered to share from their experiences. Following on from this blog post we will have upcoming posts from: 

  • Dr Rachel Davenport. Lecturer. Speech Pathology
  • Roz Bellamy. Graduate Researcher. Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society.
  • Haylo Roberts. Graduate Researcher. Animal Plant & Soil Sciences. 
  • Nikos Lexis Dacanay. Graduate Researcher. Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society. 

I wish you all a meaningful PRIDE! I will be celebrating all the rich things that LGBTIQA+ researchers have brought to my life, and all the rich things yet to come! 


Dr James Burford is a Lecturer in the RED team. Prior to working at La Trobe, he was a Lecturer in Learning Sciences and Education at Thammasat University (2014-2018).

Jamie is an Associate Editor of Higher Education Research and Development, and serves on the Queer Studies and Education International Advisory Board. With Emily Henderson, he edits the academic blog, Conference Inference.

Jamie tweets from @jiaburford.