A report by the Union of UEA students (UUEAS) has revealed that around half of LGBT+ students participating in sport at UEA feel unable to disclose their sexuality to their team mates.
Of the students who responded to the survey, 52.8% of those participating in sport indicated they were not out to their team mates, with 13.9% citing themselves as “partially out”.
The report indicated that there was a culture surrounding club and society events that prevented LGBT+ students from feeling they could be open about their sexuality, with 50% of respondents answering that at least, on occasion, they had felt the need to hide their sexuality when attending social events or training.
When asked to specify reasons for this, responses varied, with students citing both the reactions of teammates as well as their own right to privacy as reasons not to be open.
Writing anonymously, one student explained: “I like to stay private. Most of the team would feel uncomfortable if I spoke as freely about relationships with men as we do with women. If I was in a long-term relationship with a guy I would probably feel more comfortable coming out.”
Respondents also indicated that a lack of understanding surrounding different types of sexuality upset them. “[There are] stereotypes and assumptions that bisexuals are attracted to everyone and constantly horny or ‘going through a phase/attention seeking’. People do not understand how I can be in a heterosexual relationship and bi.”
Another student added: “People think it’s weird to not be interested in sex. They always spout the same ‘but one day you’ll see’ and it’s really upsetting that they won’t just accept it.”
120 students responded to the survey. Data acquired via a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Union shows that for the academic year 2011-12 4.18% of students identified themselves as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Other, whilst 8.54% “preferred not to say”.
Union LGBT+ office Richard Laverick told Concrete: “The survey was our way of localising national surveys and statistics to get a real feel for the needs of LGBT+ students at UEA.
“[The results were] on the whole very positive but highlighted ways which the Union could improve long term, and backed ideas of how to increase participation in sport and create a culture of ‘safe space’ at UEA.”
Another key finding of the report indicated a high level of support (73.1%) for the installation of gender-neutral changing and washing facilities in both the Sportspark and the new Colney Lane redevelopment.
Laverick informed Concrete that he would be meeting with the director of the Sportspark to address the issue, and that the Union was working with UEA to provide similar facilities at Colney Lane.
He clarified that the gender-neutral facilities would mean providing cubicle changing rooms, similar to family changing. “Whilst some changing rooms have one or two cubicles, to be seen as the only person using them can cause stigma. By having a blanket policy on non-communal changing and showering, we are ensuring that all people, regardless of gender or sexuality, can take part in sport.
“We also recognise that religions such as Islam would not feel able or comfortable to change in the same area as another gender. Therefore again this would mean working with all parties to find suitable solutions.”
The Union has similar plans to introduce gender-neutral toilets in Union House, which would either consist of single units or be modelled on existing women’s toilets.
The plans would not mean the complete removal of existing gendered facilities. Laverick said: “We would point out that toilets on trains, and in student housing are all gender neutral, this is not a new idea. The issues faced by trans* students and those not identifying as male/female are real and present and it is our obligation to help them.”
When asked to detail steps the Union would be taking to address the report’s findings, he explained he would propose setting up campaign called “It’s ok to be gay at UEA” and would seek the backing of both celebrities and Norwich City FC.
There was also the potential to set up an “equality marks scheme” based on a successful model at Liverpool Hope University, in which clubs and societies are graded according to their efforts to make their club a “safe space”, as well as tackling issues such as homophobia and sexism.
Furthermore, on 2 November the presidents and representatives of each club signed the Sports Charter on Homophobia and Transphobia, which is displayed on a large poster to be framed and displayed in the Hive.
Laverick added that he would welcome further comments from clubs and societies: “I am very keen to hear about their ideas of how to develop a good sense of safe space.”
The Union’s full report is viewable here.
For further information, contact LGBT+ officer Richard Laverick at email@example.com
All written survey responses by students were submitted anonymously.