On June 27 2023, the University of Warwick held this year’s largest LGBT+ event in Coventry, with it being the first Pride event in the university’s history.
Warwick’s Pride Festival hosted an array of student talent, ranging from Ibi Profane – who hosted the event – to Queezer and Warwick Folk. Pride wouldn’t be complete without drag, and in that regard it delivered, with acts spread across the festivities and highlighted with an appearance of Ginny Lemon, who starred in Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
Though the event’s success and scale could be seen as a sign of acceptance, findings from Warwick’s 2022 LGBTQUIA+ Student Experience Survey showed a significant need for action. 66% of LGBT+ students claimed to have disguised their LGBT+ identity due to fear of the potential consequences of coming out, while amongst trans students this figure rose to 77%.
LGBT+ students at Warwick who were surveyed in 2021 were 22% more likely to struggle with depression and 23% more likely to struggle with stress & anxiety than their non-LGBT+ peers
Events such as the platforming of former Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, and a rising climate of hostility towards queer communities brought about by an ongoing culture war have raised questions amongst some about how welcoming of an environment Warwick is for its LGBT+ community. Nadhim Zahawi became a figure of controversy due to his defence of Kathleen Stock, who was a target of protests by LGBT+ students at the University of Sussex who perceived Stock as transphobic due to her “gender critical views”.
Of further concern is that LGBT+ students at Warwick who were surveyed in 2021 were 22% more likely to struggle with depression and 23% more likely to struggle with stress and anxiety than their non-LGBT+ peers. What explains this divergence, and what needs to be addressed to aid inclusion?
LGBT+ students surveyed at Warwick, who made up 11.3% of the student population in academic year 2022/23, should feel welcomed, included, and at least have an equally good student experience as their non-LGBT+ peers.
In order to assess tolerance and the LGBT+ experience at Warwick, we’ll need to take a look at where LGBT+ people feel included and where they don’t, alongside any experiences of discrimination. Furthermore, we will investigate what support students believe the University and Students’ Union could assist with in bettering inclusion and tackling discrimination.
Delving into responses to a survey conducted by The Boar, there is a significant difference between the experience of cisgender (identifying as the same gender as assigned at birth) and transgender individuals, with cisgender individuals feeling less alienated and thus comfortable across university spaces. One transgender respondent noted that “being trans can be a very isolating experience”. Alongside reports of harassment and anxiety, this suggests that transgender individuals face a more hostile environment relative to their cisgender peers, which is detrimental to their mental health and inclusion at university.
I will feel anxious if I know no one in non-lgbt spaces. Being trans can be a very isolating experience, because of how terrifying it is to be perceived potentially negatively as strangers
– Transgender student
For many trans students, being misgendered, perceived as “different”, or being the target of verbal or sexual harassment creates a hostile atmosphere. Whilst all members of the LGBT+ community face disproportionate hardship, the trans community is even further marginalised as a result of trans-specific issues.
Asked whether they feel included in non-LGBT+ spaces, a transgender student said: “I will feel anxious if I know no one in non-LGBT spaces. Being trans can be a very isolating experience, because of how terrifying it is to be perceived potentially negatively as strangers. However generally I feel more and more included as I slowly gain confidence with transition.”
In contrast, a cisgender bisexual student responded: “Yes – don’t feel my sexuality has ever been a point of contention in day-to-day campus life.”
However, scenarios differ on a person-by-person basis. Some trans students have found comfort in their accommodation groups and other non-LGBT+ specific spaces such as in music societies. Respondents to The Boar’s survey stated that Taylor Swift Society, Autism at Warwick, Bad Film Society, and spheres outside of societies were examples of welcoming queer spaces.
This proves that whilst people within Warwick’s student body experience discrimination to different extents, when it occurs or is expressed via microaggressions it leaves a lasting mark and lingering sense of exclusion.
Thus, it is potentially welcoming to queer students that LGBT+ spaces on campus such as Warwick Pride and Warwick PLAN seek to offer socials, a sense of community, and support to students in a safe space. The respective mission statements of the societies both highlight a pursuit of LGBT+ acceptance, with the difference being that PLAN is more oriented to striving toward inclusion in workplaces, whilst Pride commits itself to “campaigning for LGBT+ liberation both on campus and further afield”.
PLAN hosts an annual LGBT+ Careers Summit, and Pride hosts regular accessible welfare events and actively campaigns for LGBT+ visibility and inclusion.
Importantly, Pride is responsible for directing Warwick’s increasingly popular Gender Expression Fund, first established in 2021, which essentially provides trans and gender-nonconforming individuals with up to £50 in support to purchase gender-affirming items such as binders, makeup, and new clothes. In 2023, 93 people applied for the fund, with a total expenditure of around £3,700. Similar funds have been established at Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, and Bournemouth.
Ares Osborn, the Organiser of the GEF, stated that “being trans is expensive, especially on a tight student budget”. An independent GEF survey found that the scheme was “overwhelmingly positive” for mental health and gender euphoria.
When contacted for comment on how Warwick Pride is fostering LGBT+ inclusion on campus, Warwick Pride’s Executive Board stated:
“Inclusion is effectively the ultimate goal of our campaigns. We run socials to create spaces for queer people, and welfare initiatives to ensure they feel safe and valued, but our campaigns, as well as working with other societies and organisations within the uni, are important to make every space ‘for queer people’.”.
When students were asked for their thoughts on these communities, feedback was mostly positive, with the Gender Expression Fund being seen as a “step in the right direction” according to a first-year PAIS student. However, LGBT+ societies and spaces as a whole may be a new experience for those entering higher education, with one student responding “again, yes – it is nice they exist at uni considering I didn’t have much experience of them at sixth form”.
Furthermore, whilst spaces may be less homophobic, being LGBT+ does not necessarily mean one is not discriminatory in other ways: “As a straight trans woman I feel slightly isolated from queer spaces for not being perceived as queer enough. I have also had to deal with sexual harassment and sexually inappropriate comments from AMAB LGBT people.” said a student.
Regarding negative experiences encountered, responses were mixed and further expressed an inequality in treatment of transgender and cisgender members of the LGBT+ community.
An anonymous cisgender queer man states that regarding “negative experiences”, campus is “probably … the most LGBTQ+ friendly environment” he’s been in. He goes on to say: “Got a homophobic comment once when I was with a guy at pop but aside from that I have never received any judgement for my sexuality.”
62% of Warwick transgender students are not referred to by their preferred name and pronouns
On the other hand, survey results on data from Warwick show that misgendering, both intentional and unintentional, is a consistent pattern that affects transgender students, which can isolate and evoke doubt. Statistics from the 2022 LGBT+ Student Experiences Survey show that 62% of Warwick transgender students are not referred to by their preferred name and pronouns.
When addressing intent, one transgender student replied that whilst they had been misgendered by strangers, “[everyone they got to know] has been very respectful and understanding of my trans identity, even when not always fully informed”.
Warwick Pride’s Executive Board, when asked what the biggest issues facing LGBT+ people on campus, stated:
“Issues affecting queer students do so subjectively – for example, trans inclusivity in sport only affects those interested in sport – but practically all stem from ignorance surrounding LGBTQUIA+ experiences, be it outdated myths around testosterone levels in athletes or misinformed attitudes towards inclusive sex-ed. This is why many of our campaigns centre around awareness and information and why co-operation from university institutions is absolutely crucial in creating the most comfortable environment for everyone.”
Having explored queer life on campus, it’s important to understand what the root causes of homophobia and transphobia are. Respondents differentiate between malicious and non-malicious discrimination, mentioning “unconscious biases and incorrect assumptions” and “a lack of discourse particularly when it comes to transphobia”, exposing ignorance as a cause for non-malicious exclusion.
“Societal expectations and stereotypes” and “a lack of empathy” were listed as reasons for homophobia and transphobia. Broader national discourse surrounding transgender identities plays a significant role in what behaviour towards students at Warwick is deemed acceptable or not. Further comments argue that the University of Warwick Conservative Association (UWCA) has contributed towards discrimination on campus.
If the University and Students’ Union (SU) are to improve inclusion and the wellbeing of the LGBT+ community and specifically the trans community, it is a commonly held belief that “specialist” and “tailored” mental health support alongside a “uni funded” Gender Expression Fund would bolster inclusion.
Further suggestions included “an anonymous reporting system for microaggressions / discrimination on campus (of any severity)” in order to find discrimination hotspots such as specific organisations or departments, and also a reform of the university naming system, which still displays dead names (names given to a trans individual who has chosen a different name). However, there are anonymous systems such as Report and Support that track location and departments of students who do encounter harassment within the reporting system. Whilst it is possible to change preferred names and pronouns on eVision, dead names are often still present within people’s email contact details.
Warwick Pride responded to a request for comment on inclusion solutions: “Queer students need to feel safe existing as themselves on campus, and the presence of ‘Gender Critical’ figures is a serious threat to Warwick’s queer community. In addition, more education and awareness within the university’s existing support systems would help further support queer students when it is required. When queer campaigns and initiatives are ran by students, it would be helpful for these to be supported by the university and SU in funding or advertisement.”
Moving forward, judging by the results of The Boar’s investigation, it’s crucial that we recognise trans-specific support is a priority and that though homophobia may have decreased on campus, transphobia may still be prevalent. Even if LGBT+ experiences differ significantly on a person-to-person basis, a finding that is apparent in our research, it’s unacceptable for even one person to face discrimination based upon their sexuality or gender identity. Warwick is not currently on track in the elimination of discrimination, and this unjust reality requires significant attention from both the University and Students’ Union (SU).