What is UEA doing for LGBTQ+ students? Should they be doing more?

I made a promise to myself prior to starting university that I would push myself to be authentically queer, whatever that meant, and without really knowing what the implications of doing so were.

Despite universities having a national reputation for being the hubs of liberal thought, I had naively expected indifference from UEA at best. It was a pleasant surprise come applicant day to see the face of the LGBT+ officer of that year, Theo Antoniou-Phillips, on the wall of the Hive amongst the other student officers. When Antoniou-Phillips was elected as Undergraduate Officer the following year, I felt reassured that UEA was clearly not a place where queer students were restricted from running successfully for positions of influence.

Something about the way a position like that even existed at a place I was about to commit to spending four years of my life at felt comforting to a younger Shannon looking to be at peace with this side of their identity.

The presence of LGBTQ+ history month at UEA seems to grow stronger year upon year. Along with the aforementioned flags, the entrance to the Library currently displays numerous resources for queer literature, as well as infographics on various topical issues.

It’s not uncommon to see rainbow around the necks of staff members from departments across the university, be it a signifier of identity or a sign of solidarity. UEA Staff Pride have held numerous talks, film screenings and workshops across the past month, with great success.

Some could argue these gestures are superficial that contribute little to meaningful change, but they have been some of the only things to make me sit and think. I would struggle to find a single LGBTQ+ person on this campus that disagrees these gestures matter in the grand scheme of things.

The LGBTQ+ presence within the SU currently consists of Open Place Officer Liam Deary and Trans and Non Binary Place Officer Jim Read, who are responsible for addressing the interests of UEA’s many queer students.

Read told us that for him the focus for LGBTQ+ History Month ‘was about making students and the wider community on campus feel safe and valued’. Drag culture has been warmly embraced by students and locals alike this past year, with successful shows from leading acts such as Aquaria and Shangela. Read hopes the SU can contribute to this ongoing success, with the launch of a new drag night ‘Fruitz’ taking place on Thursday 28 February.

However, Read was clear to emphasise that UEA’s support of the LGBTQ+ community should not begin and end within this month.

‘We’ve seen a worrying trend in LGBT+ voices being spoken over and hidden in recent times so we’re pleased that LGBT+ firmly put those voices front and centre – there’s still a lot more to do and we’d encourage people to keep being active allies for the other 11 months of this year.’

Dreary cites the involvement of societies and clubs as a major feature of the past month’s celebrations, stating that ‘it’s been great to see societies and groups get involved – from Art Soc encouraging discussions about LGBT+ art and artists to The Queer Review hosting a bookshop crawl.’

Dreary tells us that Sports Night Does Colours will also make a return. Previous years of the event have seen problems arise, with disagreements from select members of sports teams that the world’s should merge. Though minor in the eyes of many, hearing of this news back in 2017 was one of the only times I felt affronted existing as a queer person on this campus.

They serve as a reminder that this campus is by no means completely there. It’s demonstrative of an unavoidable fact – institutions can go to great lengths to support minority groups, but this doesn’t always mean those within the institution will follow.

Last week saw hundreds of prospective students make the same pilgrimage to Norwich for UEA’s latest series of applicant days. Despite the week falling during LGBTQ+ history month this year, I am doubtful many of them were expecting to see various locations on campus such as the Hive adorned with pride flags. I have wondered if the symbolism of that support has had the same effect seeing that UEA has an LGBTQ+ officer had on me.

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October 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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