“It’s Not Easy Growing Up Gay”: Interview With LGBT Society President

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How long has the LGBT soc been running?

We’re not entirely certain (as the original founding members are long gone), but from what we can discover it’s been going since before 1986; and was originally two separate societies that combined in the late 90’s.

Do you hold regular events/socials?

We meet at least once a week (generally Tuesdays) for Lunch on campus, and then on Thursdays for films. And pretty much any Wednesday you’ll find society members out at the Edge, regardless of whether or not we have an official social running.

Do you accept heterosexual members?

Yes, though our notion of membership is fairly hazy – we’re not allowed to keep a formal list of members, so we advertise events via our Facebook group and mailing list, which are open to all. At the beginning of the year we had a fair number of people approach us with this question at the Freshers’ Fair, and members often bring friends / housemates to our films and the Edge.

How do you feel about those who are unsure of their sexuality?

One of our main aims is to support people who aren’t certain – coming to Uni often gives people a chance to redefine themselves, and for some people this involves exploring the idea that they may be interested in others of the same gender. We’ve got two Welfare officers on the committee, and part of the idea behind the Lunches we hold are that they give people an opportunity to drop in informally and chat. We also meet people individually occasionally – to answer any questions they might have, and ensure that there’s at least one person that they’ll know already if they want to come to other events.

 Do many members have problems coming out at university?

Occasionally people do – coming out is not guaranteed to be a simple straightforward process. In general I think we see that people find it easier to come out at uni though, where they are surrounded by new friends and the environment is largely positive, but sometimes are more worried about coming out to their parents and friends back home. Certainly a fair few of our members have come out before they arrive at uni, but by no means all. Often we find that people are more comfortable coming out here, and wait until they develop a supportive group of friends before telling parents.

Coming out isn’t a single event, but a process that has to be repeated every time you make new friends

Can you tell us your coming out story?

I was fairly lucky, and things went smoothly for me. The first person I came out to was a good friend in year 11, and it happened impulsively; he asked me who I fancied and I decided to answer honestly. Gradually I came out to the rest of the people I felt deserved to know (friends, parents etc. – my mother already knew, apparently), including the guy I’d named – who was fortunately very nice about the whole thing, but also completely straight… It’s not so easy growing up gay in a very rural area, when everyone you know is straight – there’s no opportunity to experiment with flirting, dating or making out, so I arrived at uni a little naïve. Like I said though, I’ve been lucky: I never had any problems with homophobia, and my parents and friends were accepting.

Any advice?

Come out first to people you trust, and build a supportive group around yourself. That along with the practice will make it progressively easier to come out to people in the future, especially parents. Sadly, coming out isn’t a single event, but a process that has to be repeated every time you make new friends, as the default is still to assume that everyone is straight. Fortunately, the more comfortable you are about it and the less of a big deal you make it, the less of a big deal it will generally be, so don’t build it up in your head as something to be afraid of. And remember that there are always people to talk to: especially at university, chances are there will be many people who have gone through similar experiences, and if you don’t want to talk to us, then the uni runs an excellent Nightline listening service on 023 8059 5236, or (78)25236 for Halls. 

What made you want to become LGBT soc president?

When I came to uni, I discovered the society about an hour before the first social. I wasn’t very confident in my first year, but I decided to go, and had a great time. Throughout the year I got involved with a bunch of things the society did, and it really encouraged me find friends and become more confident in myself. I ran for president because I felt I owed something in return – it’d helped me, and I hoped I could do the same for incoming Freshers.

What are the aims of the society? How do you achieve these?

Well, the brief answer is that we aim to support and represent LGBT folk at the University, as well those questioning their sexuality. So we run social events, do showings of LGBT-interest films, and have a hand in organizing things like LGBT History Month on campus in February, and trips to events like Student Pride.

Do you make any attempts to increase sexual health awareness?

We run a Safe Sex talk at the beginning of each year, and advertise GCHS (Gay Community Health Service) courses to our members. This year we’re also working on supporting people going to the GUM clinic in Southampton, as people often haven’t been to one before coming to uni, and are a little apprehensive. GCHS and volunteer Peer Educators (including some of the society’s members), also run a Community Room at the Edge which gives out free advice and condoms for the LGBT community.

How many members do you have?

Again, that’s a tough question because we don’t have any formal membership. At our first social this year there were easily more than a hundred of us, but we see fewer than that on a regular basis, obviously. We do a range of things, each of which appeals to different groups. At the lunches and films we tend to get up to 15 people, sometimes more, and at the Edge on Wednesdays we regularly have around 25-30, though it changes each week as people are free.

Are people at university usually accepting or discriminatory?

The vast majority seem to be accepting, certainly once they’ve been at uni for a while and gotten used to the huge variety of people that are here.

Do you mind that The Edge is a popular nightclub for heterosexual and homosexual students alike?

Not at all, in many ways I prefer it like that: I’ve taken my housemates there (one of them loves it), and occasionally see non-LGBT course mates there too.

“In general people at our university are fairly accepting”

Have you experienced much homophobia since coming to Southampton? Any stories?

Not personally, and in general I think people in and around the uni are fairly accepting, though we do occasionally hear about intolerance among new students. One of my non-student friends had a bit of trouble, but largely I think Southampton’s pretty okay.

How many female/male/transgender members?

For the first time in a couple of years, we’ve got a slightly more even female-male ratio than we used to, though the guys still outnumber the girls a little. We’ve a couple of trans members too, though strictly they shouldn’t be counted separately: if they identify as male then they should count as male, and ditto female. (Side note: trans doesn’t relate to sexuality, so each of our trans members will also be straight/gay/lesbian/bi etc.)

 

For more information visit: www.lgbt.susu.org 

Tom Smith, LGBT Soc President

Visit the Facebook page at SUSU LGBT 2011-2012

Follow the society’s activities on Twitter @SUSULBG

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