This week, VP Community Izzy hosts an LGBT+ history month special, with Erin Baker from the LGBT+ society, and Michael Hassell, Equality and Diversity Advisor at the University of Surrey.
The discussion takes us from the roots of legalisation to the continuing challenges facing LGBT students today.
TW - this podcast contains powerful testimony regarding homophobic and transphobic experiences.
Links mentioned in the programme:
Contact Michael direct
Report and Support
University of Surrey EDI
Please note the transcript is generated by computer, so may contain multiple erros
Welcome to the sorry sopcast news from the University of Surrey Students Union, all about your student life and what your elected officers have been doing for you this week, representing you across the University of Surrey. Find out email@example.com or find us on Instagram and Facebook at Surrey union. Hello, and welcome to the sorry sub caste. My name is Izzy and I am your vice president community in commemoration of LGBT plus History Month, which we celebrate in February here in the UK. This week's podcast is all about the LGBT plus experience here at sorry. So I am joined by the other side's Lizzie Aaron, Theo and Maya, and two special guests. So Michael and Darren, please do introduce yourselves and what your roles are. Thanks. I'm Michael Hessel, and I'm an equality and diversity advisor here at the University of Surrey. I do a work across the whole broad range of equality and diversity. But I do lead on LGBTQIA equality at the university. And perhaps I'll go into more depth about that later. But I've also been an equality activists for over 40 years. Hi, I'm Erin, and my primary role here, sorry, his students struggling for her degree. And in my spare time, whenever when there is some, I, I began the LGBT plus society several years now, in the past, I've been the tribesmen been the officer, and currently for this year, I am the president of the society. Thank you both. I think a good place for us to start would be to briefly explain what exactly LGBT pluses. So could someone tell us what the letters stand for and perhaps a little bit about what they mean? So LGBT Plus, I suppose it's different ways. You can have the acronym and say, Hello, L stands for lesbian, g stands for gay, B for bisexual, T for transgender. And then the plus represents the members of the community. And often it's a bit longer as well. So you've got q for queer, eye for intersex, asexual and pay for a romantic, and P for pansexual. Please, the ones often see in the acronym, and obviously there's more. But those are just a couple of top my head. Yeah. And just to add what you said there in about the acronym, because it has been an ever growing acronym, when I was active in gay politics, at the end of the 1970s, early 80s. Before I think everybody else was born on this call. It was it was the gay liberation movement or the Gay Liberation Front. So you know, when there was no acronym, then lesbian and gay rights became the next thing. And then eventually, it expanded. And, as you say, we're talking about LGBT plus. But we generally use LGBTQIA plus, at the university is an ever expanding area. And there's lots of people who identify under the plus umbrella now as well, which is important to stress, pillion thank you for that introduction, both LGBT plus History Month is an opportunity for us to reflect on the past and increase our awareness of LGBT plus history. And often, LGBT plus history isn't particularly widely known. And a key reason for this in the UK in the UK, anyway, is section 28. So for many years, this was a law, which prevented schools from promoting the acceptability of homosexuality as a, quote, pretended family relationship. And although this would be repealed in the early 2000s, section 28 did have lasting effects on the way schools approach LGBT plus topics. And there are many people now who would have went to school in the 2000s. And we're never taught anything about LGBT plus history or being LGBT plus at all. So Aaron, and sabse, as people who have all been at school during this time, do any of you recall being taught about LGBT plus history in school? and What effect did this have on you and your peers? Can I can I jump in here as he actually Well, for me, I think I have a bit of a different perspective on this than maybe some of you because I think I'm the only one here that isn't from the UK. So I grew up in the United Arab Emirates. So for me in school, there was absolutely no talk of any LGBT topics. And that's because in the Middle East in most places, being part of the LGBT community is it's a crime. It is illegal. So it is really strange obviously coming here and when we had a We had a meeting with kingscourt. And seeing how, how much they knew about it and how they had an LGBT society in school was very strange to me initially. So that's my experience. And it's really funny enough looking at people that I went to school with, some of them have now become extremely open minded because of studying abroad and going to university. While some people are extremely close minded. Still, I'd say it's To be fair, in the UK, it's always been quite similar as well even, like, apart from like, the legal side of things. We've, I don't remember anything being brought up to my attention in school, I think the only things that were ever brought up, it's in terms of when students would, like young immature students would sort of bully each other and use like, say, like, haha, you're gay as like a derogative way of describing someone that was the only time it was ever brought up. But no description was ever applied behind that, and I was the same with you. Bye, bye. When we went to King's College, and they mentioned about this, I was blown away that so even though we only looked sort of left school, like five years ago that the amount is changed in terms of open up, honestly amazing was how much it actually has changed just from what six years of I can remember when I left school, I think six years ago now, but it's such good progress. And I think, I think, Michael, I think what you said about being an equality advocate for 40 years, I mean, you seeing how much has changed right now, what would you think about that, like your position? Well, yeah, there have been massive changes. But it's very interesting. And, you know, thinking back to the introduction of Section 28, because, I mean, homosexuality was illegal in the UK. And then in 1967, it became legal in England and Wales. And then throughout the 60s, and into the 1970s, people were starting to become more open minded and more tolerant. And people were talking about it not in this, you know, in the centre of the scores, but on the fringes as it were. And there were education materials out there, sort of putting across that alternative lifestyles were acceptable. And then the government in the 1980s, decided they wanted to stop the progression. So it really brought a halt to the progress we've made. And the 1980s were bleak for many reasons. And if you've been watching the TV series, it's a sin that will that will give you another aspect of bleakness during the 1980s. But this section 28, and stopping schools, even discussing homosexuality and putting putting teachers at fear for their jobs, as well was just incredible, and incredibly draconian. And of course, as he highlighted, the law wasn't repealed until early two, I think, was 2000, once had been a change of government, and they got around to actually sort of sorting out some of the heinous legislation that have been put through in the 1980s. So yeah. So and you're quite right to point out about schools and how much progress they've made. I'm always struck, when I'm on the equality and diversity standard open days of the university, and prospective students, 1617 year olds, sort of come up to me, and asked me about the provision for the LGBT community at the university. And I'm thinking, Well, you know, they talk about their own LGBT society they've got at school, and that would never have happened in my day at school. So So yeah, progress. But progress isn't always linear. And there are, you know, barriers put in the way at different times. So something all of you mentioned, there was how schools are progressing at the moment, and, you know, educating students more about what it means to be LGBT plus, and the history of LGBT plus people. Which raises the question of, why is it important that we reflect on LGBT plus history? And what specific parts of LGBT history? Is it important that we know about certain kind of two or three ways? I the main reasons, I think it's important for us to reflect on LGBT plus history. And, and I suppose the first one in general is, oh, history is very important to know, you know, helps you understand the world we're in. You know, I am a firm believer that people should where possible, and a little bit more history. And by the LGBT plus history, I think of a moment alone politics is a lot of counter arguments, LGBT buscamos, you know, yourself basic level, you know, homophobia is he always gay people just come out of nowhere in the last 20 years, or all these trans people never heard about them 10 years ago, where they come from, and, you know, with LGBT plus history with credit history, we can look back not just decades or hundreds of years, we can look back 1000s of years and see that we've been around almost as long as Civilization itself. And that's an important thing to understand that we've not just copped out somewhere, some people claim, and bolsos, I think it's important to understand the sort of history of LGBT plus community itself. Understand, like, you know, how Michael was saying earlier, it wasn't always LGBT plus community is a gay, gay and lesbian liberation movement. And, and, you know, and also where those words come from homosexual, lesbian, those sorts of things. Understanding is the history of these words, and these groupings and these categories can help us understand our own identities a little better today. And when sometimes as contention feels like, between who is allowed in and who is not allowed in what, and understanding that history can help answer those questions and solve those problems. And, also, I think it's always important to recognise, you know, understand the rights, we haven't the moment of what bites me yet to still get, you know, in different places around the world, or here in the UK, it's important to understand how we've come to this place, you know, it's not a straightforward linear progression forward. And it's always important to realise what's at stake and how hard people fought to have what we have, you know, appreciate the hard work, people are put in in the past. I mean, I just want to say that you're quite right, Aaron, and it's important to reflect on history and learn the lessons from history. Because if you don't know anything about the history, you'll think that, you know, life for the LGBT community was the same 10 years ago, as it is now 20 years ago is it's now and it wasn't, and it's evolved. And, and it will continue to evolve. And as I say, and my point earlier about the fact that there was quite a lot of progress through certain years and decades, and then it came to a gathering called. And so there's been plenty of different challenges along the way. And you quite rightly say, everybody should know that history in lots of different areas. So yeah, it's an important point you make, you can have a history and obviously, particularly how it's related to sorry, obviously, one of our sort of, sort of role models that we have on campus is Alan Turing, he obviously went through towards the end of his life, because of the misunderstandings and the stigma and the bias against the LGBT plus community, through chemical castration. And in the movie, The Imitation Game, it's quite sort of shocking and thought provoking in terms of showing the audience that I was wondering sort of, was this thing that was particularly common in the past? Is it still something that happens now? And how things sort of progress in terms of LGBT rights in terms of to stop that he is he was credited, you're quite right, he cracked the Enigma code. And he was credited for shorting in the World War by two years. I mean, you know, that you can agree with that or not, but whatever cracking that code, save lives. So there's, there's a very sad irony in the fact that he's credited for saving lives. And then as you quite rightly say, he was subjected to chemical castration, and then eventually committed suicide. So, you know, his his life was taken from us. And it's only been in recent years, where, you know, he's been posthumously pardoned for the, for the, for the errors in inverted commas that he committed in his life, there is still the view out there that science can cure homosexuality, for instance, which isn't too far away from chemical castration, I deliver run LGBTQIA training, awareness training at the university for staff and some students. And I use an example of somebody who was recently an MP and a member of European Parliament, who even in 2019, agreed with the view that science could cure homosexuality. So that's a frightening thought, in 2021, so really talking about that. So and there's a lot of people who believe in conversion therapy, and feel that if, you know, homosexuals are given a conversion therapy, they can be turned into heterosexuals. I mean, it's just, you know, ludicrous. And but it is still out there. So you're quite right to raise that point. Can I just quickly ask because is that a one and Widdecombe you're referring to? It was Yeah, yeah. I should have named and chain there, shouldn't I? Yes. You can. That's why exactly. So it used to be our local MP in the town I live in. Right. Yeah. So bad luck. Yeah. I'd say he's making a good point about, you know, how, at the moment that's still quite is still quite common, you know, even today, in some form, or the other politicians and pundits and whatnot. It's often it comes in subtle ways. People will say, you know, oh, maybe we'll find a reason for why people are gay, you know, and as obvious what they're hinting at, you know, And often in the moment with, like, trans stuff in particular, you know, there's a lot of them are, it's just so this gay people, you know, thinking this, you know, thinking they're straight or vice versa. And and people are trying to try to convert gender identity from trans to assess. And so someone would be like a straight trans person would be against this person is quite interesting how often people tell the argument and they seem to be ever ending how flexible they want to turn it, and they're very consistent in it. And in terms of a car, Carol, I suppose we as asking how and how common it was back then. I don't know how frequently or what the numbers were of how many people punished under that law, and that 1950s. And, but as Michael mentioned earlier, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967. And the chairman was pardoned in 2013. Only in 2016. And was Alan Turing's law passed, which person mostly pardoned every every other gay man who was caustic prosecuted under those laws in the 50s and 60s and so on. Yeah, just to say that the decriminalisation of homosexuality only affected England and Wales in 1967. It took longer for Scotland to decriminalise it and even longer for the north of Ireland, to decriminalise it too. And even though it was decriminalised in 1967, there were still people being put into jail for different offences. And I put that in inverted commas connected with sexuality. So just because the legislation changed, it didn't change attitudes, and all laws overnight either. Yeah, Alan Turing was such a hero. And I do love that we have his statue on our campus, and that the statue is such a staple, sorry, landmark, I guess. And it does, absolutely. And it does send a positive message to LGBT plus students and staff that this LGBT plus person such as a prominent figure, on our campus, and it's the first thing you see on Open Day, and it's who you walk past, when you're getting your graduation photo, I think it's really important. All our visitors, you know, see that statue, because, you know, it's the very prominent as you say, and and admire your point about growing up in the UAE, and thinking about all our international visitors, that they they'd be very obvious for them to ask question, who's that statue of? If they didn't know? And then that could engender a conversation about who Alan Turing is? And what from what he had to put up within his life. And that might, you know, enlighten them a bit on on diversity and inclusion. So it's a great thing. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I completely agree with you. I think as well, when I first came to the University with my parents visiting for the first time, that's one of the first things we saw and actually struck a conversation, I'd like to move us along to a discussion on I guess, sorry, specifically, and the experience of an LGBT plus person here. And I think it'd be good to begin by Michael, perhaps, if you could explain a little bit about what the equality and diversity team do. And around perhaps something about what the entrepreneur society. So Michael, could you tell us a little bit about what your team does? Yeah, sure. So we're, it's we're a team of three, actually, in the equality and diversity team, where we cover all aspects of equality and diversity, so not just support for the LGBT community. But also, we deal with gender, race, ethnicity, faith, disability, and all aspects of equality and diversity. The university has an equality and diversity committee. And beneath that committee, there are subgroups of one of which is the LGBT QA plus equality group. And that's a forum for people to discuss issues, policies, training, anything they want to, and perhaps send things up to the equality and diversity Committee, which is sits beneath the executive board. And obviously, if there are concerns raised at that level, we will then deal with them. We also delivered equality training, so I deliver unconscious bias training. But as I mentioned earlier, I do LGBTQIA plus awareness training, mainly for staff. And we've been it's been a very popular session, I would say that, wouldn't I but it's just, I think a lot of staff want to feel empowered, when when they're dealing with people from the LGBTQIA community. And perhaps they don't feel they've got the right language to use and understand different aspects of the community. So it's really awareness raising and giving them the tools to support people. So So that's sort of another aspect of the work we do and then Also, we celebrate diversity at the university. So we've been organising different events for this month for LGBT history month. We've also got the first permanent rainbow crossing at a university. And that came out from a suggestion from me to the estate's team. And I was amazed that they, they they were they just were so enthusiastic about delivering it, it was done within two months, which is fantastic. So again, back to my point about what you notice when you came on an open day? Well, if you're driving into campus, now you're going to drive across a rainbow. So you can't really miss that either. So so as I say, I think it's educating, celebrating, but also dealing with some of the policies and making sure that the university is a welcoming place for everybody. Thank you, Michael. And Aaron, could you tell us a little bit about what the LGBT plus society does? Yeah, sure thing. So other LGBT plus society, we are assaulted community focused society, provide a self safe and welcoming environment for all queer and LGBT students to come along, no matter if they're still figuring out their identity. They've been out for years. It doesn't matter as society welcome for everyone. We tend to meetings once a week, and with some sort of theme or planned event going on. And yeah, if if this was non COVID times, we'd probably be going to our room in TV 21 every Monday and then go into weights afterwards. But hopefully next year, you know, touchwood. And also was used to go to things like pride in London every year, do fundraisings and times do some society collaborations and get involved with sort of like awareness and campaigning activities as well. So one of the questions I have would be around the challenges that LGBT students face that may be different from their heterosexual and cisgender peers. So I try and keep it sensible, we're going to like many details, and you know, in case cause any issues and certain departments listen in. And so on the whole, you know, the student experience is quite good. And, you know, it's not, I'd like to say, It's not every day, you know, an LGBT student faces challenges. You know, I've been here since 2016. And obviously, the university's become so much more, it feels like such a more welcoming place, outwardly than it was back then. And unfortunately, students still face quite a few challenges every day. You know, whether it's, I know, I have a friend of mine. When she was in her first year, last year, her flatmate was just being very homophobic, constantly making derogatory comments, like just passing them out, you know, every now and then, you know, like, it's nothing. And they were saying how they're going to avoid the rainbow crossing because they didn't want to walk on the gate. You know, and this is a sort of thing, students still regularly encounter and currently University. And, you know, in my own experience, you know, I've had a few negative experiences with other students, you know, I think Aaron can remember this he was a great ally, gets a little badge for this one. When we did our third year, we had a quiz and and it was like an open ended answer. And it was like someone asked about like, a topic and some of the questions like oh, what do you think about this topic? And some students answered no more LGBT, def to LGBT, you know, things like that. And it was like a lecture Yeah. Just like oh my oh my oh my No, yeah. Cuz I remember going to the lecture and asking you know, after you've been cut names and I spoke to touch and teaching and learning at the time and found out you you as our course that had gone I'd already spoke to him and you know, raise the issue and I'm very grateful you know, tough course about you know, the friend in the class to you know, who's on it like a carb on it will say sorts of issues. First, thank you very much. And then you know, that there's a couple experiences. You know, when I came out as trans, when I first started Cro cro, presenting more feminine in my classes. At towards the end of my second year, I noticed sometimes when I would speak, or into the classroom, someone would like wolf wrestle. It was I felt like it was like So it's almost literally like the film gaslighting. At first. It wasn't really I wasn't really aware of it. And then I slowly became aware of it when I answered questions that came in the room. And then I knew and one time we came to that, I went to let your fear to D. And you know how it's quite a large lecture theatre with a small, smallish cars like ours, everyone's quite spread out. And I walk in and walk in and by myself, no one else come through the door, latches name started, and it happens, I could immediately pick out students in my class who were doing that as soon as they came in, obviously, taking a urination, you know, a key word. You know, maybe in trance, and it's just like, and, and I was having such a week already, you know, as we're struggling and second year, having shadow trans students at this uni, I can relate, I say is, there's nothing more frightening than when you first come out and you start presenting yourself and having to face university campus every day. It could be quite a challenge. And it was really getting to me. And when that happened, I just I saw the students. I just I grabbed the lecture printouts, and I just got out of the lecture theatre crying, and didn't come back for the rest of the afternoon. I could probably go on for a while, you know, I've had other negative experiences, students, I know plenty of other students. I have friends who have had homophobic cloud partners. And lecturers make transphobic comments to them, you know, their flatmates? You know, one time once a Come on the day, I was coming up to my class, and I used to walk to campus when I was in second and third year. So everyone knows that. A free footpath. Right? That goes out by myself way on the other side, and say now, now we have traffic lights, but you know, it's like traffic coming up. In the morning, quite busy traffic sounds like we'll be able to cool. On the day, I decided to come out to my class and lift the band aid off and tell everyone you know, I'm trans, you know, and I have had like you have tried converses I just like white sharks with like the rainbow flag on the bottom. And as walking up that a free and traffic was at a standstill, call going up sip road, and someone that roll down that window and started yelling all these slurs and obscenities at me. And like I I can get a bit confrontational or under pressure. And I shouted back Otherwise, I'll fo you, you know. And they then put says much about the state of this person and their passenger, they had pulled out an empty beer bottle from like, somewhere. And then they there's like, leaving out the windows, if they're gonna throw it at me. And if you've been up this footpath, by the free you know, there's any a couple yards distance between you and the cars. And as he saved by the traffic, and they had to go, because like the space opened up, and then I was able to get into the path which goes behind the trees. And that was the day I was coming out, you know, sitting on campus, but like, I just had a bit of gay on my shoes. And as they're naughty slurs, you know, the F bomb t slur all that like jazz, you know, thrown at me at 830 in the morning, you know, so to like, turn us into a therapy session. I think that's so important, Aaron, and thank you for sharing those experiences with us. Yeah, I guess I can just quickly summarise that. Oh, yeah. So yeah, it's like, I know, it sounds like a lot of detail. But, you know, for my friends, I've met the Society of young queer people. I know. Sorry. I mean, I know every single every woman, every nearly every queer person knows or had a similar level of negative experience. I didn't want to just say that to be like, Oh, I feel sorry for me, you know, I think when you see a queer person, that sorry, you know, LGBT person, and there's a good chance, they've also had such a negative experience. And for people to be mindful of that, when people think, Oh, you know, that's all just sensitive, you know, thinking about being discriminated against. And I think it's important for every person who is on campus who is a part of the community, many of us have had such a bad experience, or they can't believe one of them. I shall get off my soapbox. It's so important for us to acknowledge the fact that transphobia, homophobia biphobia still do happen. And although we have come a long way, it still does affect the LGBT plus community. And it's important for us to talk about it. So thank you so much for being so honest with us about your experiences. I just like to say as well as because obviously I was in those lectures as in that lecture where Aaron came out to all of us like to say it was just, it is one of my most poignant memories of being, like, sorry, it was such an incredible experience to have someone to open up to a class like that. And it took an amazing amount of bravery. And it was incredible. So yeah, so big thank you to Aaron for that as well. Oh, that's okay. While I'm here, I'd like to give a special thank you to the way they talked to me for letting me steal five minutes, or to stop a heat transfer class. asking her the week before, if I could speak about that the next week, I told her, she has like a bunch of Australian accent which is very sweet, you know, Suze can do doctor can do as well. And amazing lecturer lecture, you know, I'm friend, amazing support. And when I came out my first year, going for the second year as well. And she's left in recent years as well. And also, Dr. Campbell has also left recently. And as I mentioned, those three in the chemical engineering department, thank you to those three lovely staff members. We love to shout out a good ally. Fantastic. I think we're going to wrap up our discussion there. But before we do go, I just come in easy. Sorry. Just want to say that. That was it was really well, I don't think inspiring is the right word, Aaron. But it just it was amazing. You know, what we've experienced here at sorry, and it was so nice to hear that you felt that Sarah was more welcoming, but then the story you've just relayed, you know, there's lots of concerns there around the way you were treated. And I just, it's good to hear you've got support from allies as well. But I do think that, you know, any behaviour that shouldn't be happening on campus should be called out and dealt with as well, because that's what we're here to do as well. But you've been incredibly brave to share your story. And, and, you know, on this podcast today, you know, in great respect to you. And I think it highlights that, you know, there are lots of interest and lots of negativity around I mean, you know, pre University, you we students grow up in a heteronormative society, probably coming to university, and thinking great, this is it, I'll be able to be myself and nobody will react negatively, to me, but of course they will. And I think it's really important to recognise that and and I think the other challenge is for some of the students is where perhaps an intersectional aspect comes into your sexuality. So you know, ethnicity, face, disability, gender, so you can have a, you know, a double discrimination against you just because of the way you are And the characteristics that you have scientists think that's most important. Thank you, Michael. And it's a good point as well, that if students do ever experience any sort of harassment to do with an LGBT plus identity, on campus, that's exactly what report and support is there for. And it can definitely be scary reporting, some sort of harassment or anything around an LGBT plus identity. But I hope that students will feel able to do so if they are ever unfortunately in that circumstance. Before we wrap up, I think it would be good if Aaron and Michael, if any of our listeners do want to get in touch with either the society or yourself with the equality team. Michael, how would they go about doing that? Yeah, well, I'm happy to share I mean, my, my personal email address at sorry, is M for Michael dot tassel, which is h AWS E double firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have a generic email address, which is e di quality diversity email@example.com. And, yeah, and contact me for a confidential chat. Or if you want to highlight something that you need to think needs dealing with get in touch with me straight away, and I'll deal with it. And for society. I feel like there's there's several ways you can get in touch with us. And if you want our email, it's us su dot LGBT plus at sorry, or ac.uk and on Instagram, which has become our new primary social media, because it feels like nowadays people don't use Facebook or Instagram handle is USU dot LGBT. And then on the top of our bio, we have a link which takes you to our website and when I say social media platforms. If you want our website, it's activity.usu.co.uk, forward slash LGBT, and to the email, Instagram just sign up, you can send us a message on Instagram or Facebook or even Twitter. And you know, and one of us will be sure to quickly respond, say on behalf of all the subs that this has been an incredibly eye opening discussion. So all that's left to say is a massive thank you to Aaron and Michael for coming on the podcast today. And isaps and I will be back next week. So we will see you there. That's everything this week from your sabs. Join us on Instagram and Facebook where you can see what's happening until next week's edition. If you want to get in touch, find us on Microsoft Teams, Instagram or email us on sorry 365