In the UK, February of each year is set aside to mark and celebrate the lives and achievements of the members of the LGBTQ+ community – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer; the ‘+’ within the acronym aims to also represent other identities.
After years of neglect, distortion, and discrimination, this month aims to help people whom identify as members of this community to embrace their sexuality, to be confident, and to ‘come out’. Doing so, an honest and more accurate image of the LGBTQ+ community will be shared and the ignorance on the matter will be replaced with knowledge and understanding.
At Lancaster, LGBTQ+ members are represented by the LGBTQ+ Association (the Association), which works to be “as diverse, inclusive, and accepting as possible.” Anyone on campus can become a member of this association and no membership list nor fee charge exists. Doing so, the Association aims to spread equality and ‘safer spaces’ where members are able to express themselves.
Yearly, the Association organizes numerous events to mark this month. LGBTQ+ Part Time Officer, Will Brook told SCAN:
“LGBTQ+ history month is a time for our community to reflect on everything that has been achieved in the last few decades, and to commemorate those individuals that have brought us this progression and won us the rights and freedoms we see today. Through the continued sacrifice of their time, energy and even their lives, these people have fought for us when the rest of society would not and it’s during this time that we remember that. It must also not be forgotten that there are those in our community around the world that still face discrimination and prejudice for simply existing. The sheer bravery it takes to be yourself in this world must be recognised, and for those of us able to live as ourselves we continue to fight for those that can’t, and we do so with pride…the LGBTQ+ community continues to work towards it’s goal of acceptance and inclusion, and it is this sense of community that makes us stronger than any hate that may be directed towards us.”
Some members of the LGBTQ+ community shared their experience with us. Questioning how would it feel to be told that your mere existence is wrong, one student said:
“I spent much of my adolescence trying to pray away my feelings and desperately not let anyone find out that I was gay – because I feared their reaction […] I knew how I would react in the same situation. After roughly nine years of this something gave way. Last June, I told my family I was gay. There were a few awkward days afterwards, but my family have come to accept me for who I am – possibly more than I do myself.”
Importantly, another member of the Association spoke about the importance that the legalisation of same-sex marriages in England and Wales had for them. Despite the contrasting views and the criticism spread on the topic, the student remarked that this had no relevance because they are now happy.
“Despite the ignorance, despite the hate, despite my religion still refusing to accept my life, I am happy. Marriage equality is legalised. I can marry who I want. My love is validated and so am I.”
However, there still is a huge need for society to change and in a positive way. In particular, positive societal change needs take place to help transgender individuals feel more confident and safe. One student highlighted that public toilets especially can be an uncomfortable place and arena for assaults for transgender people. They said:
“[Although my experiences] aren’t as intense as that, but even in Lancaster trans people are still targeted in bathrooms. I’ve been yelled at for just entering the bathroom of my gender and this triggered a panic attack … Things like this are just daily struggles of trans people and is something that many people aren’t aware of.”
Our Students’ Union has acknowledged the issue transgender students faced and, Vice President Union Development, Matty Robinson, told SCAN he is starting to work with the Sports Center team to look at the changing facilities and whether these are sufficient for trans students wanting to be involved in sports at Lancaster.
Vice President Activities, Toby Wilkinson, told SCAN:
“LGBT History Month is so important for our student groups as it highlights how beneficial an inclusive atmosphere is. Inclusion in team sports increases self-esteem, confidence and can lower anxiety and depression. I’m excited for the month ahead so we can celebrate the diversity of our student membership, and explore the best ways of keeping the importance of inclusivity at the forefront of our student groups’ vision moving forward!”
The importance of the celebrations has also been acknowledged in an all-round manner by all of the Union’s Full-Time Officers (FTOs). Matty Robinson said:
“As officers, we must reflect on our work to improve the student experience for all students, including those who are marginalised, and look to the future for the areas where improvement is still required. Your VP Education has done excellent work in collaboration with the VP Welfare and Community in introducing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) representatives across our academic rep system to ensure that our education is quality, and inclusive of all students giving each student an equal opportunity to succeed.
Your Vice President Activities and I are working on a project to set a strategy for our sports clubs and societies to ensure that all our student groups are inclusive to all students, and begin to remove the barriers some students from minority backgrounds face when entering activities such as these.”
Standing by his words, Vice President Matty further told SCAN that he is also working on policy reviews for the choice Trans and non-binary students have when choosing their titles and preferred pronouns through Union and University systems. This is a step forward towards a better and more inclusive society.
Change is happening and we are lucky to be witnessing it, to be able to contribute to it, and to benefit from it. Importantly, the Students’ Union remarked that to bring change you do not have to have a title or be an officer. Simply sharing your ideas with the Union you will be able to learn more about how to become a better campaigner and how to run high-impact campaigns.
To get involved, visit the Union’s Welcome Desk Monday-Friday from 9am to 5pm.
If you’re struggling and need help, do not hesitate to reach out to your College Welfare Officers, the University or the Union’s Advice service at firstname.lastname@example.org