Sense of Belonging among LGBT Students
We acknowledge that this year may have been difficult for LGBTQ students, with fewer chances to socialise and create networks. Some students may be living in a space where it might not always be possible to be completely yourself. University is often a chance to flex, grow and understand your identity, and particularly so for LGBTQ students – being limited in finding people you share an affinity with can be a difficult and isolating experience.
Many LGBTQ students say that Clubs and Societies, such as LGBT+ and QTIPOC at the University of Leeds, can be an excellent source of support and belonging. These groups have been carrying on valiantly this year, adapting and amending for online delivery and socially distanced meetings wherever practical.
Although many families are accepting of their LGBTQ children, sadly there is some way to go – a study by the Albert Kennedy Trust shows up to 24% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Estrangement from family can occur both before and during a student’s time in FE/HE as they acknowledge their sexuality and/or gender identity. It is essential that estranged students are aware of the support available to them in their institution.
There are small things everyone can do to help create an inclusive environment for Trans students, and LGBTQ students more broadly:
- Understand more about LGBTQ terms and what they mean
- Add your pronouns to your email signature to show solidarity and allyship (e.g. she/her, they/them)
- Try to use language that doesn’t assume a majority experience (e.g. assuming a partner a student mentions is of the opposite sex)
- If you know any LGBTQ or other students who are estranged from their families, link them to the support on offer at your institution
- Include information on the location of gender-neutral toilets within any induction or event materials
- Make students aware of inclusion policies and guidance such as how to formally change their name on institutional systems
- Be aware of external organisations for LGBTQ people
- Consider advertising or creating LGBTQ specific events, 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 institution to understand and make change
Higher Education institutions have their part to play in making positive change as they develop Equality and Inclusion frameworks, and work to further inclusion in this area. Taking a cue from the success of the collaborative approach of Gp Higher West Yorkshire, there may be a chance to work together to form a cross-institutional LGBTQ coalition – if you’d like to start this by working together on plans for a collective Pride celebration this August, please contact Catherine Long (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the Equality and Inclusion Unit, University of Leeds.
Emily Towler, Plus Programme Lead Officer, University of Leeds