Sense of belonging among LGBT students

Proudly flying the rainbow flag at the Parkinson Building

This week is Trans Awareness Week (November 13–19 2020), so we’d like to give some information on the experiences of LGBTQ students and their sense of belonging at the university, some of the things the university and LUU are doing to increase inclusion for LGBTQ students, and small things you can do to help LGBTQ students feel more welcome at the university.

Firstly, we wanted to acknowledge that this year may have been difficult for LGBTQ students, with chances to socialise and explore Leeds reduced, and that some students may be living in a space where it might not always be possible to be completely yourself. University for many students is a chance to flex, grow and understand your identity beyond the academic experience, and particularly so for LGBTQ students — being limited in finding people you share an affinity with can be a difficult and isolating experience. However, it’s also worth acknowledging the positives when that community is found, and that many times students will experience a strong sense of belonging in groups they meet at university, perhaps for the first time.

Although many families are accepting of their LGBTQ children and there have been leaps and bounds in inclusion over recent decades, sadly there is some way to go. There continue to be LGBTQ people who are not in contact with their families after coming out (a study by the Albert Kennedy Trust shows up to 24% of homeless youth are LGBTQ), including students who arrive at the university and those who become estranged from their families during their time at university as they acknowledge their sexuality and/or gender identity.

Many LGBTQ students say it’s Clubs and Societies at LUU, including LGBT+ and QTIPOC and many others, where they really find their place. These groups have been carrying on valiantly this year with changes in the rules for meeting up, and amending for online delivery and socially distanced meetings where this is practical, so may be worth mentioning to students you work with.

Meet Maddie Bebbington, Liberation Project Worker, Leeds University Union

Maddie Bebbington, Liberation Project Worker, Leeds University Union

“Personally, as someone who identifies as LGBT I have found my home in my society. I had felt rather uncomfortable in telling people how I identify when I came to uni, especially within my accommodation halls as I knew I’d be living with these, at the time, strangers for the entire year and I had no idea what they would think of me because of it — luckily I found that I was in a flat with another gay girl and quickly became at ease. I’m from another Northern city but it has a pretty poor gay scene, and it was amazing to come to Leeds that has a whole street of gay clubs and bars, that definitely helped with settling in (although Tunnel’s closure is still very sad)!

But my society is definitely where I came into my own. My society (Women’s Rugby Union) is around equally straight or LGBT and it has been a great confidence boost joining, as gay is very much the norm, and therefore there’s no feeling of tokenism, and with the sport being all about teamwork I found I had more gay peers than at Uni than I had had in my entire life! I suspect this is similar for most Women’s sport societies as they tend to put emphasis on inclusivity.

Also with the new Trans Inclusion policy being passed by the sports exec I’m sure that Women’s sports clubs will get an even better chance to show their inclusivity. But right now, with the pandemic, it has been hard for LGBT students that I know. Most of my friends are comfortable and ‘out’ to their families, mine included, but there are some who aren’t and had to return home for months whilst hiding themselves and not being able to socialise, even if they could facetime/zoom it comes with the risk of parents hearing you.”

NB. The Trans Inclusion Policy that Maddie mentioned was proposed to the Activities Officer last year and is being implemented this year, in a great display of people power!

We also want to acknowledge Trans Day of Remembrance (20 November 2020), that there is still far to go to for equality and safety for Trans people in particular, and that the university has its part to play in this as we develop the new Equality and Inclusion Framework for the coming years, including working on LGBT-specific guidelines over the coming months. As part of this, the university joined Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Programme earlier this year, and is working with the organisation on progressing LGBTQ inclusion at the university.

As part of this, if you’d like to contribute by becoming a University of Leeds LGBT Role Model or Ally, please apply using the links on the website. Students are also welcome to apply too, so if you know any one who’s interested, please suggest to them!

There are also a number of small things you can think about doing that will help create an inclusive environment for Trans students, and LGBTQ students more broadly:

· If you know of any LGBTQ or other students who are estranged from their families, please ask them to contact the Plus Programme, as they are eligible for additional support, including financial, to help with access to extracurricular and development opportunities

· Add your pronouns to your email signature to show solidarity and allyship (e.g. she/her, they/them)

· Give the opportunity to give pronouns when groups are meeting for the first time, i.e. suggest adding to name badges, or in introductions

· Include information on the location of gender-neutral toilets within any induction or event materials

· Make students aware of inclusion policies at the university, including the guidance available if they’d like to transition, such as how to formally change their name on university systems

· Be aware of external organisations supporting Trans people — for example, Gendered Intelligence run a monthly Under 21 Youth Group in Leeds

· Consider advertising or creating LGBTQ specific events (e.g. for LGBT History Month in February), particularly if there is a notable LGBTQ person within your subject specialism you can showcase that students would value knowing about

· Support LGBTQ students if they need to register a complaint of harassment or bullying — it’s important that students feel they’re listened to, and that this is recorded to help the university to understand and make change

· Understand more about LGBTQ terms and what they mean

· Try to use language that doesn’t assume a majority experience (e.g. assuming a partner a student mentions is of the opposite sex)

Finally, if you’d like to find out more about Trans experience and representation, check out the brilliant intergenderation sessions from the Transcreative festival this summer, featuring Leeds alum Melz, and the brilliant Netflix documentary Disclosure.

You can also contact the Staff LGBT Society at if you’d like to join, if you have any questions, or if you’d like any advice on working with LGBTQ students.

This blog is written by Emily Towler, Plus Programme Lead Officer at the University of Leeds

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