Ah, uni in the late 2000s. Gaga was merely a blip on the pop radar, we needed a digital camera to document nights out, marriage equality was but a pipe dream and Beyonce was still entertaining the notion of an alter ego. Simpler times.
We didn’t, however, have to deal with a global pandemic. That distinction falls upon our nation’s new prospective students. But don’t let Miss Rona spoil your good time: being LGBTQ+ at university may have its occasional challenges, but we’re here to welcome you to the fold and help you down the Yellow Brick Road in (socially distant) style.
While most people are getting to grips with the student life essentials – navigating your way round the kitchenware your parent has supplied, perfecting the perfect hangover solution – you may instead be having the experience of coming out to your family. This is a big step for anyone, even the most confident, (somewhat) out and proud among us. It is normal to feel nervous, and crucial to be realistic in preparing for whatever end result coming out can have. Only you know when the right time is to come out to the people in your life. Having a chat with a close friend first will ease you in, perhaps, before broadening the circle.
You will inevitably spend the rest of your entire life coming out to colleagues, bewildered aunts and beyond. You will learn, however, that doing so becomes your favourite thing to do. The next step – going out and actually meeting your new tribe – may be easier said than done. Despite the red tape in evidence around the world, many universities are still running an alternative Freshers Week. And in Glasgow alone, each university has a distinctly gay-friendly society.
Stonewall Scotland Diversity Champion, University of Glasgow, boasts several bodies around campus that support and celebrate LGBT+ students and staff. And GULGBTQ+, a group proactive in promoting inclusivity on campus, are still taking part in Freshers Week in any way they can. As President Emily Tunstall admits, ‘We know this semester is going to potentially be a bit of a struggle for new students, but we are very excited to meet everyone starting university in September in any way we can!’ She assures us they will be hosting a socially distanced freshers fair to meet new students and that other events will be occurring online, such as an LGBTQ+ Panel, in which they are participating. ‘Where it is possible to run smaller events in person, we will try our absolute best to provide those spaces for new and existing members, and where that isn’t an option, we will be running online alternatives.’
While party-focussed events may be logistically difficult, GULGBTQ+ in the past have run a quiz night in the first couple weeks of term and are now offering an online alternative. “We are looking into our options for doing whatever we can to give new students as much of the university experience as possible.” Keep your eyes trained on their Facebook page and be sure to investigate what your new college or uni’s LGBTQ+ society has to offer in these uncertain times…
While taking that first step into student life is an exciting prospect, bear in mind there are a few things to consider to keep you safe, especially when it comes to your sexual health. Don’t be frightened, but don’t be complacent: no one is impervious to STIs, particularly HIV. Campuses supply free condoms and lube, and each city offers LGBTQ+ specific health services. Plus, your new life may feel overwhelming at times. You may need someone to talk to, and luckily help is always at hand.
You can reach out to LGBT Helpline Scotland on 0300 123 2523, and your on-campus organisations are also there to help keep your head above water.
When it comes to further education itself, now is the time to become acquainted with all things LGBTQ+, not excluding the other wonderful letters that make our community what it is. This may feel like a given, but I urge all my LGBTQ+ siblings (and our allies, for that matter) to spend your limited time at university educating yourselves. The phrase ‘Reading is Fundamental’ has become nauseatingly commonplace, but when it comes to knowing your history, never a truer word was spoken.
Take advantage of your library to bone up on queer history and literature. Academia is by no means an essential component in exploring one’s identity, but in my own experience, reading the works of feminist, gender and queer theorists changed the trajectory of my life.
Work from the likes of Judith Butler and bell hooks informed the queer person I became; I learned about intersectionality and how I need to address and harness my own privilege to elevate minority groups within my own community. On the other hand, I also watched sublime queer cinema – from Paris is Burning to Tangerine – and fell in love with John Waters, which is an education in itself. So, keep an open mind and remember you’re here to learn.
Life for all students is going to be radically different this year, let alone for LGBTQ+ students navigating the first years of their new lives. But if there are two things our community knows how to do, those things are surviving and thriving. Make the best out of a tough situation. Be bold and meet new people to cultivate your chosen family; listen to Björk; try to eat enough vegetables; and have fun!