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What is it like being LGBTQIA+ at Warwick?

Reflecting back on the lives and work of LGBTQIA+ figures and their influence is how many people have spent LGBTQIA+ history month. From activists to musicians, authors and scientists, the LGBTQ+ community has helped to shape not only queer history, but the trajectory of the modern world.

However, the relationships between straight cisgender students to the experience of LGBTQIA+ people cannot be confined to the past. Queer students attend universities across the UK, and deserve more than just tolerance. We deserve acknowledgement, respect and support as we make our path through the higher education system. 

The university is regarded as a Stonewall Diversity Champion alongisde other Russell Group institutions

In 2014, Warwick had the least number of LGBTQ+ students across the 36 institutions surveyed by The Tab. However, the University is regarded as a Stonewall Diversity Champion alongside other Russell Group universities, such as the University of Birmingham, Cardiff University, King’s College London and University of Glasgow.

The Boar Features wanted to investigate and document Warwick’s queer community in 2021, by looking into how students feel on campus, what interactions with both the queer and general student community are like and if students have any confidence in the university to protect them from abuse.

For some students, such as Thomas, the experience of coming to Warwick allowed him to be more open about his identity. “There wasn’t, in my year in sixth form, a single out LGBT person in a group of 180, there was nobody… and then coming here I just thought right from the beginning I want to be as open as possible, so in my second night here, in ‘never have I ever’  I came out to my flat.”

Several felt that provisions for queer social spaces, in comparison to other universities in the UK, were insufficient

Several other students expressed how coming to Warwick had enabled them to be fully comfortable in their identity. Others surveyed by The Boar felt a strong sense of loneliness and an inability to find a community they felt comfortable in at the university. Several felt provisions for queer social spaces in comparison to other universities in the UK were insufficient, and events such as GLOW had been co-opted by straight students. 

Many knew other LGBTQ+ students at Warwick, and said there was a sense of community. However, student-led activities and groups were not something that many participants felt like they engaged with, and a lack of inclusivity from established groups such as Warwick Pride was a concern for many. 

“I think that’s very fair. I think it has changed a lot this year,” said Dan Sheldon, co-president of Warwick Pride, in response to these criticisms. “There’s a whole bunch of new freshers and students who weren’t involved in Pride before who have been able to feel more involved due to this online interaction [caused by Covid-19].”

Pride is like a safety net for people where they haven’t found queer friends

– Dan Sheldon, co-president of Warwick Pride

He went on to say: “Luckily, I feel like mostly people have found their own queer friendship group outside of Pride… Pride is like a safety net for people where they haven’t found queer friends.” Along with proving a community, Dan says the society’s main goal is to advocate for queer students on campus. More recently, there have also been efforts to campaign for queer disabled students, and have worked closely with other liberation societies on campus.

The threat of attack due to their sexuality or gender identity is something that LGBTQ+ students have to navigate when coming to a new community. Only a minority of students surveyed reported that they had experienced abuse at Warwick. 9.1% of participants said that they had experienced verbal or physical abuse from other students, while 10.1% had been subjected to other types of discrimination. No one had faced discrimination or abuse from staff. 

However, there was a sense that the university has a culture of low-level hostility and negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ students, rather than overt hate crimes and bullying.

Negative experiences that were repeatedly mentioned were queer women being sexualised on nights out by men due to their attraction to women. Others faced a backlash after coming out to flatmates, and there was a general anxiety about being queer due to an underlying hostile attitude present within the student population. 

Luke Heslin, a third-year student, felt that much of the discrimination at Warwick didn’t stem from ignorance toward LGBTQ+ people or a sense of bigotry. “I think within Warwick it’s a lot more kind of laddie, masculine approach where it’s a lot more based around masculinity and the complexities around that.”

The general consensus amongst respondents was that the attitudes on campus were mainly in line with the attitudes of the rest of the UK. However, participants felt that those at the university are less accepting of different gender identities than they were of different sexualities.

In 2018, it was found that 68% of trans students had experienced LGBTUAphobia at Warwick

Back in 2018, Warwick Pride and two SU officers did research into the LGBTUA+ community at the university. They found that of the 142 students they surveyed, 18% identified as trans and 14% identified as being outside of the gender binary. They also reported that 68% of trans students had experienced LGBTUAphobia at Warwick in comparison to the 38% experienced by the university’s LGBTUA community.

Transphobia can be seen to be a prolific issue across higher education, reflective of the wider attitudes in the UK towards Trans and Non-binary people. In 2020 the BBC reported that transphobic hate crimes had quadrupled in the five years prior. In a 2017 report into the experience of LGBTQ+ university students by Stonewall, it was revealed that trans students across the nation are subjected to more abuse than their cisgender counterparts within the rest of the queer community. 

A non-binary student interviewed by The Boar criticised the university’s treatment of the trans and non-binary student community. “I can’t express the number of ways in which the University is disappointing to me… The University has such an unwillingness to listen to anything that anyone says in criticism of them. It’s just extremely frustrating and I think particularly my gender identity is something that the University really ignores.” 

When reporting instances of LGBTQIAphobia, students at Warwick felt notably less confident than the national LGBTQ+ student community. In the Stonewall University report, 39% of trans students and 22% of cisgender queer students wouldn’t feel comfortable reporting bullying to university staff. Of those surveyed by The Boar, 46.1% of students said they would feel uncomfortable reporting an instance of abuse to the university. 

When asked about the lack of trust expressed in the report system that is in place, the university responded: “Everyone, including LGBTQUA+ students, staff and visitors should all feel safe and comfortable on campus, as we strive to create a community where unacceptable behaviours are not tolerated. Inclusion is one of the four strategic priorities that underpin Excellence with Purpose, the overarching University of Warwick Strategy.

“Warwick is a Stonewall Diversity Champion, and has also set-up The Rainbow Taskforce, to help progress LGBTQUA+ equality, the Taskforce has three co-chairs, providing academic, professional services and student representation. In addition to the Taskforce, a Stonewall Self-Assessment Team was also set-up in 2020, to progress and embed LGBTQUA+ equality.

“For anyone who, sadly, has a negative experience on campus we would strongly encourage them to access support via our online Report and Support tool. They can do this anonymously if they prefer. See: https://reportandsupport.warwick.ac.uk/.

We are working with all academic departments to incorporate active bystander support training for all new students from the next academic year, as well as with the SU, societies, and sports clubs on their own awareness campaigns and disclosure referral training

University of Warwick

“Prevention and awareness raising are also critical to our approach. We are working with all academic departments to incorporate active bystander support training for all new students from the next academic year, as well as with the Students’ Union, societies, and sports clubs on their own awareness campaigns and disclosure referral training.”

When asked what they wanted straight or cisgender students on campus to know, those who were interviewed generally felt that being open minded and listening to the experiences of queer students was a good way forward. 

“You have no reason to be ignorant in any capacity and I don’t mean ignorant in the sense that you go and be overtly homophobic,” said Luke. “Just understanding that what queer people put up with everyday. The resources are available within Britain, available with the Internet. And then there are resources available by having a Warwick admin, so you can access academic articles. It’s ridiculous, you have no reason to be ignorant.”

At Warwick there is an acceptance that queer students are here; it seems safe for the most part. But some feel as if not much has been done to shift away from a culture that has accepted casualised discriminatione, leaving some queer students to feel alienated, with little faith that the university will do anything to tackle any discrimination that does occur. 

Perhaps it is up to Warwick students to eradicate casualised LGBTQIAphobia at Warwick and stand up for minority members of the community. 

Through small acts by straight and cisgender allies, those on campus both open or more reserved about their identity and sexuality, could start to feel just a fraction more welcome. The use of pronoun pins at society events and putting them visibly on Zoom and Teams calls; calling out homophobia and transphobia in social circles, societies and sports clubs; and respecting the importance of queer students on campus could all help to make the university feel more welcoming.

From talking to queer students at Warwick it is clear there is no monolithic experience. Some have found a safe space, while others are significantly less comfortable. All are impacted by the behaviour and attitudes the general student population tolerates. In order to keep moving forward and to make campus a safe space for students to be themselves, Warwick still has a long way to go.

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