International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia
On the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Dr Chris McLeod, University Teacher in Psychology in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, reflects on how our emergence from the pandemic’s restrictions can provide an opportunity to take note of the experience of the LGBT+ students and staff who work on our campuses.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it is that there are many aspects of my daily life that I take for granted. For example, the pandemic made me take stock of the freedom I previously had to see friends and family with little restriction, to visit supermarkets piled high with food and to visit the pub for a drink or two.
However, another poignant reflection from this period was regarding my liberty to live and work without fear of persecution for the fact that I, as a man, am in a relationship with another man; a man with whom I live in safety and with security. Conversely, around the world, and still across the UK, many people face daily challenges relating to their sexuality and gender from people with whom they live – challenges ranging from having to hide their identity to horrendous physical and mental abuse. Many of you reading this may not have ever seen an LGBT+ hate crime through your own eyes but, I can tell you, overt at-home LGBT+ discrimination is still experienced by people just around the corners of the places you visit every day.
Losing a place of safety and security
During my two years as the LGBT+ Officer at Loughborough Students’ Union between 2017-2019, I became very aware that many of our students find their degree-course cohorts, term-time accommodation and student-led community groups to be a sanctuary – a place of safety and security away from the fear and discrimination they experience at home. While this is heart-warming for University stakeholders to know, a key reflection from the COVID-19 pandemic is that, as in-person activities had to be curtailed and many students had to return home for various reasons, some students had their freedom abruptly withdrawn, and their mental and physical health significantly impaired.
At present, we are fortunate to be on a roadmap to having all in-person activities return to campus in the near future, reinstating the sanctuary of expression that our campuses provide for many. However, going forward, we should ensure that we retain our acute awareness of what we provide for those who may otherwise face discrimination, and a notable and key factor to ensure this is upheld is the relationship between the University and the Students’ Union.
The unique University and Students’ Union relationship
On our campuses, there is a uniquely-close relationship between the University and the Students’ Union, especially when compared to most other Higher Education institutions. Over the last 5 years, this has been exemplified by the joint events and campaigns that the student LGBT+ Association and the University’s LGBT+ Staff Network have co-designed and delivered. Although there are many occasions where particular University staff act in loco parentis and/or have direct jurisdiction over students, most of the time the staff and student relationship can be horizontal: adult to adult. In the realm of activism and representation of minority and liberation groups, this horizontal relationship is pivotal to the success of ensuring our on-campus sanctuaries can be extended to all corners of our campuses for ever-increasing numbers of students and staff alike.
We must maintain and develop this relationship to ensure a dialogue between the University and Students’ Union remains open and honest. This way we can increase the visibility of LGBT+ people in all walks of campus life and facilitate the development and acceptance of progressive LGBT+ policies when issues arise. Otherwise, we risk a division, or at least an ambivalence, that may culminate in the ‘sour taste’ experienced recently by students at the University of Cambridge who were told by the University to remove LGBT+ and other liberation-and-representation flags from inside and outside their University accommodation with the threat of licence termination if they did not comply. These situations need not occur if meaningful consultation and communication occurs between a multiplicity of engaged stakeholders and is an incident from which we can learn. Specifically, we can learn that an open dialogue between different elected or appointed members of the stakeholder communities or departments can ensure that we avoid a situation where wires are crossed, with the aftermath inciting anger and facilitating division.
Reaching out to LGBT+ friends or colleagues
So, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, I reflect on how our various on-campus groups provide a sanctuary for many staff and students who face discrimination away from the University. I also reflect on what we, as staff, can do to increase the number of people who can feel the safety and security of what our Loughborough community can provide. Finally, I reflect on and am grateful for the active and positive relationship between the University and Students’ Union LGBT+ groups who work together to help improve the experience of LGBT+ people on our campuses. I hope that you are able to reflect on some similar areas of gratitude and, whether you’re LGBT+ or not, consider how you can reach out to an LGBT+ friend or colleague to show that you stand by them and firmly stand against the LGBT+-phobia that still lurks around the corners of places you visit every day.
Dr Chris McLeod
More information about International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT):
LGBT+ Staff network blog
Posts and articles from the Loughborough University LGBT+ staff network