Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why the A in LGBTQIA+ doesn’t stand for ‘ally’

Alex Soule

It seems to be a common misconception, that the A stands for ally, all you need to do is ask half (sometimes more) of the population what the A stands for in the acronym and they’ll say ally. That’s not even merely straight people and allies either; people within the queer community seem to think so as well; if they remember the A exists at all (it gets left out more often than not). Sadder still is when the misconception is corrected to point out that the A does not stand for ally but rather asexual since many seem to either believe that:
A. Asexuality doesn’t exist
B. Is just another word for celibacy
C. Asexuality is just a phase/mental instability
D. Asexuals aren’t queer enough to be counted under the LGBT umbrella, or
E. That we somehow reproduce asexually like an amoeba or a giant mutated lizard out to destroy Manhattan.
These aren’t just words from heterosexual people either as I’ve pointed out, many queer people have the same point of view.

And this is exactly why the A needs to stand for asexual. Because with this outlook asexuals fall between the cracks, not ‘normal’ enough to be straight (especially since many asexuals have queer related romantic and even sexual orientations on top of just asexual, and even those who identify as heteroromantic deserve to be considered queer due to the whole sexual minority thing) but not ‘queer’ enough to be queer. An asexual person shouldn’t need to explain why they are queer any more than a bisexual person should. Yet we still receive a lot of denial of our existence, and receive a fair amount of acephobic behaviour towards us typically by people who don’t understand what asexuality is. The acephobia triggered by ignorance is at least fixable even if it gets tedious trying to explain that Godzilla is not a good example of an asexual.

First thing to understand is that asexual is an umbrella term in itself for anyone who doesn’t experience (or rarely experiences) sexual attraction (exact opposite of a pansexual, they experience sexual attraction to all genders, we experience it towards none). Under the umbrella you have various forms of sexual and romantic identities. Pretty much under the sexual identities you have:
Asexuals who don’t experience sexual attraction to any gender/sex but may (or may not) feel a romantic attraction towards a gender/sex.
Demisexuals who will only feel sexual attraction when a close emotional bond is formed (which of course may be coupled with any of the other sexualities)
Grey asexuals who rarely feel a sexual attraction towards anyone (more so than an asexual but not as specifically as a demisexual)
These are then paired with various romantic identities (which may also be a-, demi- or grey-, just replace sexual with romantic in the above descriptions) which typically describe the gender/sex a person is attracted to (aka someone can be asexual but homoromantic and attracted romantically to a person of the same gender/sex) or in the case of someone who is aromantic they will have no interest in a romantic relationship but rather a platonic one (yes, this is possible).

Secondly we are not celibate. Celibacy is a choice to refrain from sex for cultural, religious or personal reasons whereas asexuality is not a choice, merely a lack of attraction all together. Nor is it just a phase or mentally unstable, no more so than someone who is homosexual, bisexual or transsexual. If someone were to view the other sexualities in this light there would be hell to pay so why isn’t the same privilege extended to us? Why is it that asexuality is considered a flaw within the queer community when homosexuality (for instance) isn’t? We were born this way just like everyone else.

Thirdly, what is queer enough if we don’t fit under the umbrella of queer? Last I checked queer was a supportive community there for anyone who had a sexuality other than heterosexual (which just makes the idea of the A standing for ally even weirder since that most definitely is not a sexuality) yet people who identify as asexual are denied that support/forgotten about. We deserve to feel welcome as well considering the asexual community is rather small and scattered; we too are a sexual minority. We deserve to know that there are people who will give us support as we try to figure out where we sit in the sexuality spectrum. We deserve to actually feel human rather than be treated as though something is wrong with us or just ignored.

Because maybe if the A was included more we could actually figure it out sooner and we wouldn’t feel as though we were broken as we try to understand why we feel so different to those around us sex and romance-wise. Maybe we wouldn’t feel so alone if we actually knew earlier that what we were was normal.
Because that’s how it felt, growing up and not experiencing sexual attraction while everyone else hit puberty and did, feeling romantic attractions but being confused because the sexual attraction wasn’t there.

So what the hell was I? I didn’t know what I was. Straight? Bisexual? Lesbian? Confused? Just broken?
I didn’t know, because that A was almost never spoken of. And if it was, it stood for ‘ally’.


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Yes I am in the right bathroom, so fuck off!

Anna Luxembourg

Everyone needs to pee. Well, that’s what the National Union of Students stickers say. But trying to do just that is quite hard for those of us who are trans* or gender diverse. We face questioning of our gender identity, threats of violence and sometimes intimidation from the authorities. Recently, in Victoria, I went to pee at a toilet in Flinders Street Railway Station and I was questioned about my use of the toilet by at least three members of the Victorian Police. My sense of self-esteem was shattered.

I have never quite felt comfortable using gendered bathrooms, and I know a number of people in our community don’t either.

This highlights the need for gender-neutral toilets, a place where a person can be comfortable enough to pee without being subjected to threats and intimidation, or feeling like they are using the wrong bathroom and that their gender identity is being questioned.

There are those who will argue that a gender-neutral toilet will not work. However, we have a perfect example of how it can and does work in society in the form of most disabled toilets, which do not have an assigned gender, and guess what? Nothing happens apart from people doing their business in peace.

It is disturbing to note, though, that at UNSW, the Muppets at FM say that it would be too difficult to make gender-neutral some of the toilets on campus. But in response, they have started to segregate the disabled toilets into gender binaries, thus removing from students and staff some of the only safe places to pee on campus and costing more in terms of replacing signage.

It is high time that the university actually thought of its staff and students’s welfare and instituted some gender-neutral bathrooms.

I realise that some people may not be comfortable with standing up to the authorities and threats – and I’ll admit, neither am I – but last time I was questioned on my usage of the female toilet I did reply. Yes I am in the right bathroom, so fuck off!

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Why class is a queer issue and its relation to education

Anna Luxembourg

Higher education has – from the Middle Ages until recently – been the sole preserve of those who belong to the upper-middle class and the upper class. However, with the invention of such things like HECS, the door has opened slightly for those from a lower socio-economic background. This, of course, is all well and good, but it will laden the person with a massive debt and does not account for the other costs that are associated with higher education. Costs such as rent, food, clothing and, of course, textbooks are at such an exorbitant rate that it puts enormous stress on people who are in the lower socio-economic brackets. Queer students often find themselves in the lower socio-economic brackets due to the way that society deals with queer people, often leaving us reliant on welfare due to reasons such as not being able to live at home, or high medical bills. As the prices of rent and food rise, there is less money for the queer student, who will most likely to fall into one of the more marginalised parts of society so that they’re able to afford their other academic costs. It doesn’t help that the academic textbooks are sold at astronomical prices – this practice is gross and in effect serves to keep academic knowledge in the hands of the upper classes whilst denying it, or making it extremely difficult to acquire, for those who belong to the lower classes. The academic class structure is of course a reflection of the class structure of the wider society, and that society makes it hard for a number of queer students to escape poverty and acquire academic knowledge.

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Gabriel Hanrahan-Lawrence

Content warning: femmephobia, minor misgendering

For most of my life I’ve been battling with the ever-present, all-powerful gender boxes. From a strange obsession with having the longest leg hair at age seven, to a series of far too close-cropped haircuts at 14 to 16, and a predilection for pairing suit jackets with floral skirts at age 18, gender roles have never been my thing. In fact, I’m yet to find somebody who thinks they are their thing. The consensus all around is that gender stereotypes suck harder than supermassive black holes. (Okay, black holes don’t suck, but I’m a poet first and a scientist second, and poets don’t need to make sense.)

The thing is, gender roles haven’t been uniformly rigid for me and for a lot of other people I’ve known. You’d expect us to grow out of ludicrous ideas like “pink is for girls and blue is for boys”, but apparently not. Most of my childhood was fairly unrestricted as far as gender presentation, save from a few nasty comments from peers and old fogies. I was easily classified as a tomboy, and everyone calmly reassured themselves with “she’ll grow out of it” and “she’ll make such a nice young woman”. The promise of a nice, gender-conforming young lady would tide people over. I, of course, did not, and the world ended up with a young man instead. Quelle horreur!

You know that scene in Star Wars where Luke and the crew are in the trash compactor? They fall into all the gross mud and grunge on the floor and it’s disgusting, but then the walls start to close in and suddenly everyone is slipping over and the garbage is being pushed onto them as the walls close in. That’s kinda what gender roles feel like to me now. One box has the same shit on the ground as another box, but now the walls are closing in and I’m getting it splashed all over me.

Now that I’m identifying as male, I’m expected to fit right into those gender roles. I’m expected to dress in dark colours, be taciturn and gruff, bodybuild and learn mechanics. There’s no room for what is perceived as feminine behaviour – floral prints, nail polish, sewing, poetry. A friend once said to me “If you want to be a boy, you need to stop wearing so much floral print, because it’s for girls” and then proceeded to, almost in the same breath, compliment our cis male friend’s new floral tie.

Trans people are expected to be hypermasculine or hyperfeminine, whereas cisgender people are allowed a lot more shades of grey. It’s even more pervasive for trans women, who face the invalidation of their entire identity if they don’t display the exact amount of femininity for our transmisogynistic and femmephobic society – not too much or you’re “trying too hard”, and not too little or you’re “faking it”. Maybe gender roles get more strict because we’ve already made that gender transgression in identifying away from our assigned sex, that anything further makes people too uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, there is a definite double standard when it comes to trans people and gender roles.

Ultimately, it’s ridiculous, because trans guys look super cute in skirts, and purple is a really nice hair colour, and there’s nothing cooler than a trans girl who’s into power tools and cars. “I use she/her/hers pronouns” should not mean “I will never wear a button down in my life”, and “I’m a man” does not mean “I’m a lumberjack”. Just because someone is insistent about their gender doesn’t mean they have to conform to what you think that gender should mean. Who gave you the right to decide what’s masculine or feminine anyway?

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Shakira Danger

Since starting at UNSW and meeting a lot of new and wonderful queer people, I have heard quite a few stories of shocked parents when their children came out. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, growing up I had the exact opposite problem. While my peers had their parents asking them about cute members of the opposite sex, I found myself facing the same question over and over, despite my denial and despite my young age. For some reason or another, my parents felt it appropriate to ask me, somewhat commonly, “Are you a lesbian?” and despite my consistent no’s, it would be followed up by “Are you sure?”

Now it might seem like a good thing; they were only showing their acceptance! But there were a few reasons that this approach did more harm than good. First off, my parents were working under the assumption that because I was a tomboy I was gay, a harmful and persistent stereotype. Second, forcing sexuality onto such a young child, as I was only 12 when this began, is never a good idea. Instead of making me feel welcome in my own home and family, it made me feel attacked for who I was and who I could be. I developed a deep need to prove my heterosexuality to both my family and myself, and my only response to the question was anger and self-hate. I became so set in my heterosexual identity and my desire not to be questioned for just existing as who I was, that it took me a very long time to be able to begin to realise that I was not, in fact, a heterosexual. Without being questioned and forced to choose and defend an identity at such a young age, I believe it would have been an easier, more comfortable process, instead of spending years of my adolescence suppressing my attraction to women and almost forcing myself to be attracted to men.

It is unreasonable to expect all adolescents to know who they are and what sexuality means to them at such a young age. While it might seem like a show of acceptance so they know that if they were gay it would all be okay, it might be far better to show them that no matter who they are, it would be okay, and to accept what they have to say about themselves.

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Gendered Insults

Shakira Danger

Gendered insults are an ingrained part of our culture and reflect the values that society places on the actions and behaviour of both men and women. Gendered insults are able to be used against people by comparing them to a certain type of person, which is far and away more often a slur based on women and transgender people of any gender. Words are used to shame women for who they are by calling them a bitch, slut, whore, cunt, dyke, and on and on and on. Slurs about women such as these have a much different effect depending on who they are used against – against women, they are just another facet of the misogyny faced by so many on a daily basis, whereas against men, they are used jokingly or to infer weakness and inferiority, seen by society as inherent to womanhood. They are also used to shame trans* people and people who don’t conform to typical gender roles. You should be insulting someone for their actions alone, not for some perceived connection to what is seen as an inferior group of people, or for membership to a group that is oppressed. That is bigotry, pure and simple.

But these words don’t need to be lost from our vocabularies forever, as slurs are sometimes only slurs when used insultingly. For those people who are a part of the group that a slur is used against, there is the option of reclaiming it. Using a slur as a positive title has been an important part of activism in many situations, but it is a contentious issue. If you aren’t a part of a group the slur is used against, your best bet is to avoid using it entirely. There will be times in your life when you will want to call someone out – to just go to town and make them feel terrible – but take a look at your choices in language before you do. Next time you insult someone, don’t insult my gender along with them.

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“Wholesome Heterosexual Literature” – Shit People Say About Dorian Gray

Gabriel Hanrahan-Lawrence

“Dorian Gray isn’t a gay book.”

I have to resist the urge to laugh in her face, and I manage to tone it down to a breathless giggle. “It was used as evidence of Wilde’s ‘sexual perversion’ in court. It’s pretty damn queer.”

The girl shakes her head, brow furrowed. She is resolute. “It’s not gay. Oscar Wilde wasn’t gay; Dorian Gray is a heterosexual!”

I’ve gone red in the face. My lungs are aching with withheld glee. “Maybe he wasn’t gay” – a break for laughter – “but he did the dirty with a lot of dudes.”
An indignant “No!” and she storms off.

In an article about “Why I Don’t Teach Women’s Literature”, a male academic tries to justify his misogynistic superiority complex by claiming that literature written by women is not as “wholesome” or “powerful” as those written by men. His examples of strong, heterosexual, masculine works?? The likes of Homer’s The Iliad, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.

And I’m astounded. I’m actually shocked speechless by straight people who feel the need to so vehemently defend these characters’s firm residence in Straighty-Straight’s Lane, Straighttown, Straightbury, Straightsylvania. They can stake their claim on a character’s sexuality and turn around and ban the same book for being “too lurid”, as if the mere presence of queerness makes something inappropriate. It’s reminiscent of a child who licks all the food to mark it as theirs, and then realises they can’t eat everything they’ve taken.

I’m the first to admit that I’m hungry for queer characters. Queer biographies, queer fiction, queer films, queer television, queer music; you name it, I’ll take it. But once I have my hands on a character/book/film/song, I will defend it to the death. I have written a 2,000 word essay about how Enjolras from Les Miserablés is most definitely, irrefutable, hands down, no arguments, not straight. I once went on a 40-minute tirade about people who try to deny Zeus’s homosexual relationships. I will deck a guy who tries to deny that Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby is bisexual. It’s a subject very close to my heart, because there’s so little material to defend. If I don’t stand up for the small pickings I have, I won’t have anything.

The first time I ever even knew you could have queer characters in media was in 2009, when my friend showed me BBC’s over-the-top, painfully flamboyant television series Beautiful People. I watched it all in two days – and I may or may not have cried. It was so precious for me, to see people who were just a little bit like me, on television, doing their thing. It was tiny scraps like this, predictable two-dimensional characters, that pulled me through high school.

Fast forward to now, and I have whole shelves dedicated to queer books and shows. I hear stuff like “You’re only reading that because it has a gay character in it” or “you only like that because you think it’s kinda queer”. And yeah, I feel a little guilty about it sometimes, but finding queerness has become a honed skill. People have careers in it. I get to say that I wrote an essay about the homoerotic subtext in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and got full marks for it. And I get to loudly, proudly, angrily declare that yes, The Portrait of Dorian Gray is a gay book.

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Where do babies come from?

Cassie Cooties


There still seems to be this ingrained notion in our society that all babies come from a cisgender and heterosexual couple having sex and then giving birth to a child or children they will then parent. It’s what my mum taught me, it’s what my sex ed classes in school taught me, and it’s what the majority of media representations of families taught me. The truth is, though, that’s baloney; people become parents in a variety of ways, no matter their gender, sexual identity or relationship status. This normalisation of one certain way of becoming a parent is harmful. It means that kids who are adopted may be made to feel that the relationship with their adoptive parents is lesser. It names babies born out IVF “test tube babies”. It makes people assume that LGBTIQA people cannot have babies, and the children of LGBTIQA families have to either constantly correct people’s assumptions, or else hide or lie about who their parents are. Becoming a parent is really not so easy. It often can be pricey, and there are a wide variety of ways to become parents, so I decided we all need a re-education in where babies come from. Read and learn.

(I tried my best to use language that was inclusive and non-hierarchical, but it was incredibly difficult, as society has placed a higher value on child/parent relationships born from sex and genetics. I apologise to anyone who is offended by language used in this article and welcome you to contact me with corrections and comments.)

Adoption refers to a process where a person assumes the roles and responsibilities of parenting a child that is not genetically their child. Adoption can occur in a variety of ways, at any age. Adoption is often referred to as legal jargon, however, it is not simply a legal process (though this is often an important part of it in our society). Adoption can occur before legal recognition, or without legal recognition.

Legal adoption, however, has been, and continues to be, an important issue for LGBTIQ people. The first legally recognised adoption by a gay couple only occurred in 2007 – just seven years ago! Presently, the only states in Australia that offer full legal equality in regards to adoption are NSW, ACT, WA and Tasmania. Further, sometimes a “step-parent” adoption can be legally required when LGBTIQ people give birth to a child together if the child is genetically related to just one of them, meaning that the other parent/s are left off the child’s birth certificate. Alternatively, when a cisgender and heterosexual couple give birth to a child together, and one of the parents is not genetically related, they are still able to include both their names on the birth certificate and be legally recognised as parents.

Foster parents or carers take on the roles and responsibilities of parenting for a period of time for children who are no longer able to live with their families. These periods of time can greatly vary from days to weeks to years, and the stated aim of foster care is to eventually return children to their families of origin. Occasionally however, long-term foster care placements can lead to adoption. To become a foster parent, you must go through an assessment, and then, if found to be eligible, a training process.

LGBTIQ partners and singles are able to become foster parents, however, some non-government agencies do discriminate, and they are allowed to do so because of legal exemptions for religious organisations.

Surrogacy refers to an agreement where a person will give birth to a child so that another person or people may become parents to the child. The surrogate may become pregnant in a variety of ways, and the child may or may not be genetically related to the surrogate or the parents. There are two forms of surrogacy agreements that are (terribly) referred to as “commercial surrogacy” and “altruistic surrogacy”. “Commercial surrogacy” refers to an arrangement where the surrogate receives payment or “financial reward” for giving birth to a child – this is illegal in every state of Australia other than NT. “Altruistic surrogacy” refers to giving birth to a child for no further payment than what is medically or personally necessary during pregnancy.

“Altruistic surrogacy” is legal for LGBTIQ couples in all states except for WA and SA.

Insemination involves inserting prepared semen through the neck of the womb (cervix) and into the uterus, close to the time of ovulation. A parent’s own semen can be used, or it could be from a donor.

In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is a process in which a sperm fertilises an egg in a laboratory rather than in a uterus. The fertilised embryos are developed in a lab and then transferred to a uterus. As the sperm and egg are collected and grown to an embryo outside of the uterus, both, one or neither can come from the parents or donors.

The same legal rights apply to both insemination and IVF. Both are legal for LGBTIQ people in all states except for South Australia, where insemination and IVF are only allowed for those who are “medically infertile”. Medicare also does not provide a rebate on either, unless there is “medical problem”, which leaves many LGBTIQ people with a hefty bill – this is discrimination.

Sex. Wait, what? LGBTIQ people can have babies through sex? But this goes against everything we’ve been taught right!

This is because we’ve been taught that uterus, ovum, vagina equals woman and semen and penis equals man, when this is in fact not the case. Sex and gender does not fit so neatly into these classifications; reproductive organs come in a variety of combinations and can exist on people of any gender. So two women can have sex and become parents if the combo has a sperm and egg present, and likewise for two men. Yes, men can have babies! This was brought to media attention by Thomas Beattie, who spoke up as a trans man who was pregnant, and he has since given birth to three children. Also, LGBTIQ people can just have babies through having sex with anybody, a partner, an ex-partner, a fling, a one-night stand, or a friend they want to co-parent with. You shouldn’t just assume that any person became a parent by any process, because there are so many ways to become a parent no matter your gender, sexual identity or relationship status!


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The Risk of Coming Out

Alex Dowell-Day

From the fuss made over Ian Thorpe’s recent coming out, to Harvey Milk’s urging of queers to come out during the ‘70s, coming out continues to be an intrinsic part of many queer narratives. There are a number of explanations for the importance society places on coming out, including the perception that to be heterosexual and cisgender is the norm, and the notion that queer people are lying if we don’t come out.

One foremost explanation, however, is that queers themselves place significance in coming out because, fundamentally, there is still risk involved in coming out. For every celebrity coming out that is generally well received, there are still the stories of people like Tyler Clementi, or the 16-year-old transgender girl known as “Jane” who spent 77 days in prison without being charged with a crime, to remind us that there are still plenty of people willing to discriminate against us. And we know this. We know the potential consequences of coming out, both good and bad.

The risk of coming out can be particularly salient in high school, an environment which ensures that if your coming out goes badly, your means of getting away from people who want to beat you up, who want to humiliate you, and who have the ability to generally make your life a living hell, is limited. Couple this with a school administration that couldn’t care less (and many don’t) about the harassment of queer students, high school has seen many queers keep the doors to their closets jammed firmly shut. I attended a school in the eastern suburbs which, for the most part, was fairly accepting of queer people. Despite this, coming out was never something I felt comfortable doing at school, except to a few close friends. While I didn’t think the majority of people at my school would have been by bothered it, coming out wasn’t a risk I was willing to take in order to find out if I was right. From what I’ve heard from the few people from my school that I have still kept in contact with, quite a few people did know, or suspected as much – and they weren’t bothered by it. But the risk remained.

The risk is what stops countless queer kids from feeling comfortable discussing queer issues, from changing to their preferred pronouns on Facebook, and from disclosing their relationship status to family and friends. And it’s a valid fear. The consequences of coming out can have a long-lasting impact on the life of the individual who comes out. I came out to my mother two-and-a-half years ago, and while I don’t regret doing so, coming out to her has undoubtedly impacted on my life negatively, whether it be from the comparatively minor comments she continues to makes about it, to my bout of (sort of) homelessness in mid-April.

On the other hand, not coming out can have a detrimental impact as well. This is particularly true for pre-transition trans people who aren’t out and have to live as a gender they don’t identify as. For some, not being out can make them feel as though they can’t really be themselves, and it can inhibit their confidence and their capacity to feel comfortable within themselves.

Ultimately, you can’t know how someone will react when a person they know comes out as queer, despite whatever reaction you anticipate, there is still risk involved in the action of coming out. Because coming out does result in social ostracism, it results in violence, it results in homelessness, it results in abuse, it results in mistreatment by parents, it results in the disintegration of friendships, it results in depression, it results in anxiety, it results in self harm, it results in suicide. The queer community are painfully aware of this. According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 84 per cent of LGBT youth report verbal harassment at school due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. LGBT individuals account for 30 per cent of all suicides, and more than 50 per cent of transgender youth will at some point attempt suicide. In 2011, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reported that 87 per cent of reported LGBT+ hate murders were committed against people of colour, while 40 per cent of those murdered were transgender women. Given this, it’s no wonder coming out continues to be a difficult issue for many queer individuals. As long as there continues to be a risk in coming out, coming out will continue to play a significant part in the lives of queer people.

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UNSW students seize Max Brenner

BREAKING: Up to thirty UNSW students aligned with left-leaning socialist factions have occupied the UNSW Max Brenner store, demanding an end to the Israeli blockade of, and war on, Gaza.

Tharunka understands that the protesters are refusing to leave until Israel permanently withdraws all ground troops from Gaza and ends its persecution of the Palestinian people.

Approximately thirty protesters marched into the Max Brenner store on the Kensington campus less than one hour ago, shouting “Free Palestine from the river to the sea!”, “Max Brenner, come off it , there’s blood in your hot chocolate!”, and “Netanyahu listen well, your Zionist soldiers will burn in hell”.

Student response to the protest was mixed, but most students appeared to be broadly in support of the chanting protesters as they passed the store.

More details to come as they arise.

Note: This story is part of UNSW students’ yearly Foundation Day prank.

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