When browsing through my university’s LGBT society’s Facebook page earlier today I came across something quite interesting, a Stonewall guide to picking a gay friendly university. The criteria outlined on the website include the following: protection against bullying and mandatory staff training, monitoring of student’s sexual orientation, welfare support for LGB students, LGB society, events for LGB students, consultation of LGB students, specific career advice for LGB students, LGB staff network, Stonewall Diversity Champion, engagement with the wider community.
I had never put much though into whether my university was gay friendly or not during my application process, but in retrospect, it’s something I probably would have found very useful. That said, knowing what I know now having attended uni for 2 years, I doubt I would have based my decision on it in the end – and here’s why.
Part of picking a gay friendly university, and this goes for picking a university in general, is all about surrounding yourself with the right people while at uni. As clichéd as it may sound, your time at university will only be as good as you make it. If you want to make friends, you have to actively go out and make them. If you want people to accept you for who you are, you need to be okay with who you are. The more confident you are in yourself the harder it is for others to make it into a problem. However, I’m not saying that being out in uni is always easy, even though my uni is ranked quite highly on the Stonewall list. When I go out to university venues with my girlfriend and we act like any other couple, getting harassed has become more of a rule than an exception. And as much as it makes my blood boil I can do something to change it. I ran for the Equality and Diversity Committee and it’s on my agenda as one of the first things to address.
Further, when looking at the Stonewall criteria, as comprehensive as it is, it seems like there isn’t that big a difference between universities. At least not between the ones I looked at. While it is true that if I had known at the time of applying that a certain university was particularly hostile to LGBT people I would not have applied, it still wasn’t one of my top criteria. Maybe the reason for this is that I somehow thought we lived in a society where overall it was quite unacceptable for a university to be homophobic or particularly anti-LGBT. There are laws in place to ensure publicly funded universities cannot discriminate against LGBT students. I’m sure there are exceptions to this and you can find less accepting universities, but I’m not entirely convinced that the Stonewall criteria would help you find them. While the fact that Stonewall only base their ranking on official information available on the university website may not be a deficiency of the criteria itself, it does mean that you can never really know how compatible a university is with you without going there.
Another thing to notice about Stonewall is that it is a LGB charity and fails to include T in any capacity, therefore this criteria would be unhelpful in finding out how trans* friendly a university is. It is a shame that such a high profile organisation continues to exclude trans* individuals, and this makes the Stonewall criteria also less comprehensive. Even the majority of university societies seem to be more inclusive than Stonewall.
However, just by picking a university that may seem more accepting than others you can end up escaping the real world in which you are still going to face problems because of your sexuality or gender identity as unfortunate as that is. It is hard enough to live in the university bubble, knowing you will soon have to leave it, and it would be even harder if I faced no problems at uni because of my sexuality, because it would make me even more reluctant to leave and thus the transition into post-uni life harder. The difference is you can escape an, at times, unaccepting world, but there’s a lot more you can do about a uni that isn’t adequately protecting its LGBT students.
Because of issues with money I was forced to pick a university that was not the best ranked out of the ones I had been accepted to. And it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. The point is don’t stare too much at rankings when trying to choose a university because at the end of the day you just have to take the leap and hope for the best.