Published on February 19, 2014 | by Beau Bass

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Homophobia at university

Anti Homophobia poster

Homophobia comes in many different forms so can often be difficult to measure. [Flickr: Mike Fleming]

Many people have been notably vexed about the distressing situation in Russia surrounding gay rights.

But surely we need to demonstrate equality on our own doorstep in order to move the fight against homophobia any further?

Unfortunately, homophobia exists within our society and still occurs even at university level.

Despite the fact that university is about growing as a person and enhancing your knowledge, several individuals are still harbouring homophobic prejudices, which can make life increasingly hard for lesbian, gay and bisexual students.

Homophobia comes in many different shapes and forms so it can often be difficult to measure.

However, according to LGBT officers of the National Union of Students (NUS), universities should be doing more to tackle homophobia as they may not be taking the problem seriously enough.

LGBT officer Sky Yarlett said: “I think policies aren’t worth the paper they are written [on] if they are not upheld. I know of too many cases where a homophobic incident has been brushed off as banter or just a joke, and there has been no action taken.”

Hate crimes

When it comes to hate crimes, the reporting of such instances can be exceptionally low.

Students should be encouraged by their university and student union to come forward if they are experiencing homophobia or any other kind of hate crime.

Yarlett adds: “I think that while we have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, there is still a fear from students about being ‘out’ and open about their sexuality for fear of repercussion. Anecdotally, I know of students being forced out of their halls when they’ve had a homophobic flatmate.”

Many are aware of the fact that homophobia is still a major issue; it being more severe in some countries more than others, but this issue is engrained so deep within our society that it also translates to life at university.

According to Mostafa Rajaai, SUARTS Culture and Diversity officer: “Homophobia of course is an issue within our society, and with the university being part of that society there would always be some aspect of it. This is not an issue that we are alerted by at UAL day to day and, as much as I am aware, our LGBT students and staff believe they are working and studying in a safe space. However, nowhere can ever be too safe and there is always room for improvement, and I hope that we are moving towards the right direction.”

Scared

People march for Gay rights

Despite the wide acceptance of different sexualities in the UK, hate crimes still take place. [Flickr: meganck6]

A major problem among students is that they do not report homophobia when it occurs, which can result in an inaccurate picture being painted when it comes to assessing this problem.

Due to the fact that many are too scared to come forward or do not know who to talk to, the evidence is quite often anecdotal rather than statistical.

One UAL student, who prefers to remain anonymous, said: “During my first year, while staying in halls, I was subject to a lot of verbal and homophobic abuse. I had experienced homophobia when I was at home but it was even harder here because I didn’t know who to turn to and I didn’t have the support of my family and friends.”

Stonewall, the LGBT charity, have been running Gay By Degree  for the past four years to tackle the issue of homophobia at university.

It is a guide that measures how gay-friendly a university is by taking into account a variety of different factors, such as whether there is a LGBT society and if the university has policies in place to tackle homophobic bullying

It’s increasingly important for universities to be friendly to LGBT students.

Ben Summerskill, the Chief Executive of Stonewall, writes on the charity’s website: “With fees of up to £9,000, it’s more incumbent upon universities than ever to think about how they attract and retain the best students. Lesbian, gay and bisexual students are no exception.”

Bullying

For some prospective LGBT students, how gay-friendly a university is can have a huge impact on their decision.

“As we know, lots of gay young people are put off university because of bullying experienced in school. Universities have an important role to play in changing their mind,” adds Summerskill.

So what should you do if you are experiencing any form of homophobia in halls or at university?

According to Rajaai: “Any student who has been subject to homophobic behaviour can access the Students’ Union’s advice service and get help in order to make a formal complaint against the individual. We strongly encourage students to come forward with any complaint, [whether] it be against students or staff, as this is not an issue to be taken lightly.”

“Lots of gay young people are put off university because of bullying experienced in school. Universities have an important role to play in changing their mind” Ben Summerskill

Highlighting the importance of LGBT societies, which ensures that individuals do not feel isolated, Rajaai adds: “LGBT societies play a vital role on our campuses and hopefully this will continue to be the case for the years to come. Our LGBT SUARTS society also plays a very important role in bringing the community together and helping and supporting LGBT students.”

Equality is key and in order to achieve international LGBT acceptance we must first be the role models.

Homophobia at university may appear unimportant in comparison to the abhorrent activities that have been taking place in Russia, but if we are to be the moral arbiters of equality, we should stamp homophobia out of universities and out of our society completely.

 

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